A historic victory … a long wait!

victory

By now we all know that the City of Santa Monica and the FAA have reached a historic agreement (see here) to close down Santa Monica Airport (SMO) by the end of 2028 while shortening the runway immediately.

Both the residents and aviation interests were taken completely by surprise by this development which was negotiated in secret over recent months/weeks.  Outrage has been expressed on both sides, and no doubt will continue to be expressed for some time.  Now that this appears to all intents and purposes to be a ‘fait accompli’, we need to pause, take a breath, and evaluate where we find ourselves.  So in this post I want to try to put what happened in a larger context.  No doubt as has happened in the past, some will interpret my pragmatism unfavorably, but so be it, here is what I think.

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On the community side, the 2028 end date is indeed a bitter pill to swallow, but as in all things, there are plusses and minuses to this decree viz:

 

 

Plus

  • The fight is over and we won! The writing is on the wall and aviation opposition is pointless.
  • We shorten the runway this year and that stops JetSuite-X and many others
  • We can form an FBO, and when we do (if not before), Atlantic and American are gone.
  • We deal with most jets and JetSuite-X right now
  • All the existing lawsuits are now moot. The City saves at least $4M (possibly twice that) in legal fees etc.  Future aviation lawsuits have little if any chance of success.
  • We have certainty now and can plan the great park, including get a park bond, financing, and designs for the whole thing ready to go day 1.
  • This doesn’t stop things like requiring mufflers, installing security, pattern flying, and all other mitigation efforts
  • We can all get on with our lives, we have certain victory, BUT we have to wait a long time for the whole enchilada

Minus

  • 2028 is a very long way away (although I believe full closure will happen before then)
  • The city will have to run the airport at a loss for a decade (since landing fees will be greatly reduced)
  • There will still be planes and some jets flying for many years
  • Leaded fuel may remain until closure
  • Flight school activity and leases may continue also
  • A lot of people will be (and already are) outraged and/or disappointed
  • This delays the full 200 acre ‘great park’ until 2029

But lets look at this development in the context of the larger war that has played out regarding SMO.  The truth is that this day, or one very much like it, was inevitable as soon as Measure D was defeated and LC passed in the 2014 election.  The very fact that D (see here) was placed on the ballot by the national aviation lobby sent us a clear signal that despite their bluster, they and presumably also the FAA, were well aware of the significant risk of losing were the issue to play itself out in the courts.  To forestall this, Measure D attempted to bind the City’s hands for ever by deceiving voters that it gave them a choice, whereas in truth it did the exact opposite, and would have kept the airport open and growing forever.  The antidote to D was Measure LC, placed on the ballot by Council, and fought for by a coalition of neighborhood groups opposed to D and in favor of LC.

With the resounding defeat of D, the aviation lobby had not only accomplished the exact opposite of their intent, but had also achieved what might otherwise have been impossible, they had enshrined in the City Charter, through LC, that only park and recreational space could replace the airport should it close.  Such a miracle one could not have hoped for back when this all started.

By the way, thank you aviation lobby, we couldn’t have done it without you!  In future conflicts with other Cities, I am sure you will now keep in mind the law of unintended consequences….

Thus it was clear that future aviation attempts to deceive the populace would have to fight the idea of a ‘great park’, a very difficult proposition at best.  So by early 2015, the aviation lobby knew full well their last remaining tactic was to rain down a firestorm of litigation upon the City in order to wear it down and hopefully delay, perhaps even avoid, the inevitable.  Somewhat disingenuously they simultaneously started a vigorous PR campaign to portray themselves as the “good guys”.  That campaign continues still.

The firestorm process started shortly after their election losses, and has picked up pace ever since, to the point where prior to last Saturday, the City was engaged in half a dozen different legal disputes relating to SMO simultaneously.  The JetSuite-X proposal for commercial operations would simply have added more to the total had it not been forestalled by this agreement.  The firestorm would inevitably have continued for many years to come, costing the City huge amounts of money to defend.

Fortunately for us all, as before with LC/D, the aviation industry failed to understand exactly how different this City is from most.  Despite the rising tide of lawsuits, the City continued undeterred, fighting each suit as it arose, while simultaneously continuing with other measures including going so far as to formally call for complete closure by 2018.  Few City’s have the will or the budget to fight such an onslaught, so while the aviation tactic may at first blush have made sense, once again they picked the wrong City to use their strong arm tactics on.

In recent years, there have been two great battles in this SMO war.  The first was the D/LC battle which we won in November 2014 after seven months of effort.   The second was the litigation firestorm which was decided in our favor after two years of the legal ‘blitz’ with last Saturday’s announcement.

At some point, probably around the middle of last year, it no doubt became abundantly clear to the FAA that the City was never going to back down, and that ultimately the issue was likely to finish up in the Supreme Court where the idea of the federal government forcibly taking land from a City despite the Feds having never owned that land was unlikely to be received favorably.  Defeat on the Western Parcel would likely have come earlier than that.

Bottom line is the FAA knew there was a good chance it would lose in court and couldn’t afford to create a legal precedent.  That is why a deal was out there.

“…and this Agreement has no precedential effect as to any other dispute between the Parties or between either the City or the FAA and any third party.  This Agreement is made in light of the unique circumstances of this case…”

Why couldn’t it afford such a precedent?  Because there are literally hundreds of airports watching what happens at SMO in the hope that it will set precedent that will allow them to retire underused or unwanted airports of their own.  By entering into this decree with Santa Monica, while stressing the ‘unique’ nature of the City’s situation compared to all others, the FAA has avoided what I estimate to be a 75% chance of losing in Court and creating a precedent that might lead to a stampede. Once D was defeated, it was clear to many of us that our next task was to work with the City to bring the FAA to a realization of this reality, knowing it would then act in its own interests, and thereby in ours, to end things without a legal morass.  Such an event would allow the City an opportunity to strike a favorable deal to end it all.  The Airport2Park Foundation was formalized at this time.  This critical nexus has now happened.

Of course we are all armchair quarterbacks, quick to point out where and how the deal might have been better if only they had asked for this or that, but none of us were there, and we cannot know how this actually played out on the ground.  To think that we the public could have been a party to such a discussion without dooming it inevitably to failure is simply naive.  Talk of subterfuge and betrayal based on such non-inclusion is thus misguided.

Lets play that out for a second, suppose the City had brought the agreement before the community and asked them what they thought before signing it.  Firstly the arguments would never have ended, and all would still not be satisfied, indeed if history is a precedent, hard line advocates for continuing the legal path would likely have brought additional legal actions to try to stop the agreement, as I understand they have in fact done.  However, such attempts are unlikely to succeed given mandated collaboration between FAA and City to defend the agreement (see below).  Secondly, and far more seriously, the cat would have been out of the bag and the aviation lobby with all its resources would have made quick work of finding a way to close such discussions down forever.  This would have been a bad outcome both for the City, the community, and the FAA, while the aviation lobby, would of course claim a great victory.  So it is clear why secrecy on such discussions was so important.  Without it, we would simply have lost this opportunity for victory (albeit delayed) and peace.  No, it was always the case that this discussion had to be done in secret regardless of if we like it or not.

Boiled right down, the tradeoff between taking the deal and fighting on in court can be summarized as follows:

Deal:

  • 100% closure of Western Parcel/shortened runway this year
  • 100% closure of airport by or before 2028
  • Airport may continue in some reduced form until 2028

Continue Legal Fight:

  • 75% closure of Western Parcel by 2019
  • 75% full closure of airport by 2023
  • 25% chance airport never closes

We can quibble about the percentages and clearly there are many more potential paths in the legal network, but the basic tradeoff remains the same if you game out these alternative futures (which I have – see here for detailed diagram):

smooptions

Its a tough choice, and I don’t envy the Council having to make it. However, I cannot truly say in the heat of battle that I might not have made a similar choice given the tradeoffs, even though I strongly dislike a number of the details in the agreement. I suppose with any resolution, mixed feelings on both sides are inevitable.  It seems to me significant that all those with legal backgrounds that I have spoken to, both in the Council or otherwise seem less enthused about pursuing the legal outcome all the way, than those without such training.  Absolute certainty usually trumps ‘a very good chance in court’.  The 4-3 Council vote likely reflects this.

Some raise the risk that with a long timeline, the makeup of the Council may change in the future in such a way that they don’t close in 2028.  However, I think that is a small risk, and would have existed anyway if we’d pressed ahead with the litigation route. Likely far more so with continued legal costs enabling a backlash with the help of the NBAA/AOPA/SMAA public relations machine.  This worry should be quickly put to rest by Council by formal actions moving forward, and by their continued support for implementing and preparing for the ‘great park’ to come, so allowing us to start digging on day one.  Moreover, by that time the airport will likely once again be making dramatic losses since without the jets, landing fees will no longer cover running costs, especially when one adds in the costs that must now be incurred by the City to shorten the runway and add the safety zones (since of course we can’t take FAA money to do so).  The airport, once shortened this year, will no longer make economic sense any way you look at it.  Why then would a Council keep open a underutilized, polluting, loss-making relic in preference to a great park?  It makes no sense.

To be honest, I was not looking forward to another 5-7 years of arguing with aviation proponents and fighting to keep things going our way. That would inevitably have been our future. Now we can all relax, get on with our lives, enjoy the benefits of our lovely city, and mostly just keep an eye on things to make sure the City is still doing all it can to mitigate remaining impacts. Many of us are getting too old to keep fighting indefinitely at the level we have been thus far, and we all have other things that call for our time and focus.  No doubt a new generation would step up to fill our shoes, but now they won’t need to.  For me, spending 7 months virtually full time fighting first the signature gathering campaign, and then the Yes on LC, No on D campaign was truly exhausting and traumatic. Do any of us really want to carry on like this for another 5-7 years, because thats what it would have been?  The City budget impact tragectory from mounting SMO legal costs was also unsustainable long term which could also have derailed our cause.

But step back and look at it from the other guy’s side…

From their perspective it must fee like their god just abandoned them! That has got to hurt WAY worse than anything we might be feeling!

As we all know, aviation advocates have always been certain the FAA would protect them forever, and that certainty drove their insufferable arrogance during LC/D and all the way up until last Saturday. Now that arrogance is utterly gone!  Even organizations like NBAA preface their bluster now by phrases like “if any other avenues remain to us”, and ridiculous memes like “Trump was blindsided and will fix this” serve only to underscore their realization that pretty much every other avenue to reversing this in their favor is now closed.

Whatever steps we take next, and we will of course continue our mitigation efforts, our opponents will inevitably dwindle rapidly with time. Those remaining will be demoralized hard liners without any real hope. Never underestimate the positive benefits over time of a demoralized opponent.  No rational businessman would put more effort into fighting this decree or the closure of SMO. Today’s JetSuite-X move to cancel flights is just the first example.  There will be more, as this story also in today’s news portends.  If aviation interests choose to bring more suits via Part-16’s or in other courts, the decree itself forces the FAA and City to jointly defend the decree against all onslaughts viz:

“The Parties agree to vigorously and actively defend this Agreement, any resulting Consent Decree, and all terms embodied therein as fair and reasonable, to vigorously and actively defend the same agains any challenge by any individual or entity…”

Thus with all legal avenues essentially shut off, and having already poisoned the well (as far as going to the people of Santa Monica) through their behavior prior to and during LC/D, it is hard to see anything realistic our opponents can do to stop or reverse this. Game Over.  Besides which, as we have seen above, the FAA doesn’t want it to stop as this would bring back the likelihood of losing and setting a disastrous (for them) precedent.

This is why I believe full closure will actually be achieved earlier than the decree anticipates.

That ain’t so bad. Looked at from this larger perspective, we should all probably be celebrating despite our considerable misgivings.

Yes, its far from ideal, but it is absolute, almost irreversible, victory!

Maybe some of us can’t bring ourselves to say “thank you” to our City and Council for doing this, for making the hard choices so that we don’t have to, but it seems to me we at least should not be castigating and threatening them for having done so.

Time to get on with our lives and start planning for the great park…

John Fairweather

CASMAT

39 thoughts on “A historic victory … a long wait!

  1. Alan Levenson

    Mr. Fairweather,

    There are suppositions in your analysis, and second guessing.

    Surf Air’s Pilates Turboprop, and likely all turboprops can safely use a 3500′ runway and Surf Air is drooling to fly SMO. The Decree Exhibit B allows for “commercial” use. JetsuiteX can fly 25 passenger planes as the CEO already stated. Once all these new uses are made of this airport I can not imagine the lawsuits that will fly if the city tries to close. We will be living next to a beehive of commuter flight activity. I would love to be wrong, but doubt it.

    There is no hard and fast close the airport date in this agreement. Do we not learn from history? A lot can happen in 12 years. That is the time it takes a child to go from 1st grade to graduation.

    Please read the agreement again and think about it.

      1. Andrew

        John,

        Regrettably, nowhere in the Consent Decree does it require or guarantee airport closure. You are obviously more optimistic than other members of our community that it will actually lead to closure twelve years from now.

        Your analysis that the airport will actually close in 2029 depends on two critical factors:

        1 – That the City does not enter into another grant agreement with the FAA.

        2 – That the City actually closes the airport.

        A lot can happen in twelve years, and the composition of the City Council can change dramatically in that time. So can public opinion (particularly if the airport is “less” bad, there may be fewer people in the community who are motivated to close it completely).

        All that would need to happen is for the aviation industry to get four pro-airport members on the Council, and then we’d be screwed for another 30 years the moment they decide to take another grant from the FAA.

        Unfortunately, we now are going to need to remain diligent for twelve more years to make sure that that doesn’t happen.

        – Andrew

        1. John Post author

          Andrew,
          I believe that we will soon see the City formalize its absolute commitment to the closure date. No doubt it will also formalize that it will not take FAA money.
          Yes, 12 years is a long time and we must be vigilant as I said in the post, and realistically meddling in Santa Monica politics is now the only way for the aviation lobby to have any impact on things. They may well try. However I am comforted by the fact that they made such a lousy job of their last attempt to meddle in our politics that they in fact created the great park. If they have not learned their lesson and try again then I and others will be happy once again to take advantage of their clumsiness to provide some other amazing benefit to our city.
          – John

  2. Sabrina Burton

    John,

    Thank you for this thoughtful analysis with which I agree wholeheartedly! But more so, thank you for all of your efforts over the years on behalf of the residents of our beauiful city.

    No deal is perfect, but I am with you 100%. I look forward to keeping the pressure on the get the runway shortened, to establish our own FBO and to ultimately close the airport and break ground on a lovely new park.

    Hooray for Santa Monica!

    Best,

    Sabrina Burton

  3. Stephen Mark

    Thanks John. I joined the Airport Commission in 2009 with two personal goals for the Airport. First was the establishment of runway safety areas to conform with the FAA’s design requirements for any new airport servicing a fleet such as the one at SMO. My second goal was to explore whatever options the City could pursue so that the City’s elected representatives and not the FAA would determine the airport’s future. While taking nor deserving any credit for both these goals having now been met, I can’t help but feel good about this outcome. I understand the frustration of those who want more sooner, but personally I have no good answer for pro-airport people who’ve pointed out that I knew the airport was there when I bought my Sunset Park house. To have even what you say is a 75% chance the land will become a park — one that I hope honors the airport’s history — is a windfall I never hoped to see. Now I have to live that long.

    1. John Post author

      Steven,
      Thank you and everyone else that has served over the years on the airport commission for your part in bringing this to be. Just to be clear, the probability that it will become a great park is now 100%. The 75% figure was the probability of that happening if we had turned down the deal and pursued the legal path. 75% is pretty good, but its nothing like as good as 100%.
      – John

      1. Andrew

        John, the probability is not 100%. It may have moved much closer to 100% in the past week, but it’s still not 100%. A lot can happen in twelve years.

  4. Charlene Nakamura

    John, thank you for your analysis here. I am happy with this agreement and frankly the missing definitive details is actually a good thing. 1) no definitive timeline regarding shortening the runway – I would not want an absolute date — what if we miss that date?; 2) no definitive process regarding shortening the runway – perfect, that means the City is in control of this and we don’t need to get the FAA or anyone else’s permission.

    I agree, we need to remain vigilant and ensure that the City moves forward with the runway shortening, FBO operations and other actions to ensure the airport will cease operations at the end of 2028 but now, the City can act and not continue to incur legal expenses defending all of these lawsuits. That’s not to say there won’t be folks still wanting to sue the City but I don’t think people realize how much all this litigation costs us. Measure LC — drafted and passed by residents of this City, guarantees residents a park and recreational space – all other development must be placed on the ballot and approved.

    I prefer to have the certainty of an agreement vs litigation, that may take years to resolve and even if you win, the other party may still have avenues to not abide by the ruling.

  5. alan katz

    John, with all due respect, things can change very fast in this world ( just look at what Trump has done in 2 weeks). Agreements seem to always be changeable. In 12 years, not only the neighborhood will change , but the residents will change. The City Council will go through a number of incarnations. All the FAA is doing here is keeping their options open without hassle from the community for 12 years. There are a couple components that could spell disaster over a 12 year span. First we may have a major earthquake. fema could take over the airport as a staging ground. The same could happen if L.A. is hit with a major terrorist attack. In that case the Military could get control of the airport for National Security reasons. The next 8 years we might have a whole new view of small airports and National Security. Trump could just cancel the agreement for those reasons.
    Getting control of the runway length is key to our hopes of getting rid of jets. But what can the city do with the western parcel ? Do the have total control of it ? If so , it would be easy to end the airport now even with the 11 year agreement. Just think about it. A 2 story wall at the end of the runway would prevent most planes from taking off. I can understand the need for police and fire access, with helicopters , and maybe an area for fire & police could be designed into the new park. That might alleviate some of the City concerns with the airport gone. But as it stands, the agreement seems more like kicking the can down the road… way down the road. Be sure to read the extra fine print.

    1. John Post author

      Alan, while you are right that much can change in 12 years, you are wrong that the FAA has simply managed to get another bite at the Apple in 12 years. This agreement is now a signed federal mandate, that means that the FAA and City are now legally bound to follow it as written and any dispute must be resolved in federal court. Thus the situation is fundamentally different from all other past agreements which were with the FAA and adjudicated in the FAA’s kangaroo courts.

      Neither a natural disaster nor a terrorist incident could result in more than a temporary takeover of the airport. Trump has no interest in cancelling this deal, it is my understanding that the new White House Council has already signed off on it. Think about it, the only real political use of SMO is democrats coming here to fund raise. Trump certainly isn’t going to be doing much fund raising here, so if he wants to stick it to the democrats, closing SMO is one good place to start.

      We cannot build a wall at the end of the runway, that is the entire purpose of the avigation easement that is part of the agreement which it is my understanding applies exclusively to the land within the current runway footprint that is released from aviation use by the agreement itself. No walls. Sorry.

      I have read the fine print and I am more optimistic about our future regarding the airport than I have ever been up until now. To me it seems it is game over, we’ve won.

  6. alan katz

    Yes, i respect your optimism, but the reality is we won’t really know for 12 years. As someone once said ” It ain’t over till it’s over” . I’m sure everyone hopes you are right……It would have been nice if the agreement specified an incremental closing where say jets were gone in a few years and all other planes phased out over the remaining time leaving at least 2 years where all planes were gone, so they can’t say they need more time to relocate. In the last 2 years, serious plans for the park could be started with a few year tax increase to pay for it. I’m sure it will take a couple years to turn it into a park. Leaving the control tower and using some existing structures for public events, cafes or museums would be a good idea. Anyway , sooner we squeeze the planes out the better. Don’t wait 11 years. And don’t keep the runway. Jackhammer it into a pond and fields. Leave no trace , except maybe bring back the airplane museum , for the kids.

    1. John Post author

      Alan,
      Serious plans for the park have already started and will now continue. Unlike the legal fight option, we now know with certainty what the timeline is, and that is essential to move forward with planning of many forms. As a result, we should be ready to start digging the final park features day one. As you know 12 acres of park and playing fields is already in progress. The shortening of the runway will add more than twice that into the mix, if only in preliminary form, within the year. Now that we have certainly, it is far easier to do things like float a park bond, as well as other financing strategies, so this solid timeline simplifies things considerably both for the City and for Airport2Park. Perhaps with aircraft still nearby, this land cannot attain its final form as part of the eventual great park, but anything that is done will have to be designed to maximize ease of integration into the larger whole when that happens, just as has been done with the design of the first 12 acres. We are all going to be busy envisioning, designing, building, and then enjoying a gradually expanding park footprint at the airport for many years to come, even before we regain the whole thing on January 1 2029. Of course the tower and other nods to the land’s aviation history will remain as part of the park, and recreational and cultural uses are part of any great park plan. By the time the final date comes around, we will already know what the great park will look like, much of its surrounds will have been built and we will already be enjoying it.
      – John

      1. Edward

        I’m sorry, I wish I could, but I just can’t agree that this is “a historic victory,” given this weak, spongily drafted Agreement, but I do agree that “a long wait” is indeed ahead of us before the Airport is actually closed, and I don’t just mean the 12 year term stated therein. Instead, I can’t help but see this as just a 12 year extension of the 1984 Airport Agreement, minus the local control over some adverse impacts (eg. noise mitigation), and plus a shortened runway and at least some affirmation of the City’s discretion to close the Airport on Jan. 1, 2029.

        The epic community effort in both Santa Monica and surrounding Los Angeles that forced the City, often kicking and screaming, into even attempting closure upon expiration of the 84 Airport Agreement deserved a far, far better outcome. Instead, the City squandered its enormous political and legal leverage on an Agreement that raises more doubts and questions than it settles.

        Some immediate questions it raised for me:

        1. It would have been a simple matter to include a provision that the parties acknowledge and agree that the Airport closes on Jan. 1, 2029. Period, end of discussion, certainty and notice provided well in advance of a closure date. Why didn’t it??? Why not definitively erase the doubts, if closure is indeed such a certainty?

        Instead, we get Section VI, kicking the can down the road at the City’s discretion, and opening the door in 2028 to yet another battle royale over all this. And yes, 12 years is a long time, and yes, a lot can happen—things like federal legislative, regulatory, judicial or other action preempting or otherwise qualifying what’s stated in this Agreement, or an even worse City government, etc.

        In short, what has been settled definitively, other than potentially another fight in 2028? Or even worse, a 12 year slow burn over Airport issues, as the still negative impacts continue to be felt in Santa Monica and surrounding Los Angeles (and there, I can assure you that WLA, Venice and Mar Vista will not sit quietly serving as the dumping ground for Airport impacts for another 12 years)?

        2. Why 12 years? Why couldn’t the City at least get the best-case-scenario-for aviation-interests closure date of 2023? Why did the City give the FAA the extra 5 years, given its strong negotiating posture? That’s five unnecessary years of torment. Better to have litigated this, given the City’s strong position. And please, spare me the money wasted on litigation argument. This is a City that has tons of money to waste, and is expert at doing so on make-work-projects far less productive than this. There were important principles to be resolved here, and the City was performing a needed public service in attempting to resolve them—finally, and once and for all.

        3. Why the Saturday morning rush, the timing to minimize press and community coverage, the lack of explanation and public vetting of key terms, the lack of community input? If it is indeed a historic victory, why was it handled in this manner that screams just the opposite? Is there any surprise, then, that doubts have been raised about the City’s real intent here?

        4. Since the City was in effect negotiating a new Airport Agreement here, why is there so little addressing the adverse impacts for the next 12 years (eg. curfew, noise mitigation, pollution, etc.)? Instead, it memorializes as ok all the negatives, and then some, in Exhibit B (the 84 Airport Agreement was in some respects better than this). Granted, there’s at least the shortened runway, but even there, many questions go unaddressed.

        Maybe there are answers for all the questions surrounding this sad denouement. But sorry, a historic victory this is not. It’s the Settlement Agreement that settles nothing much at all, other than another 12 years (if not longer) of division, controversy, and uncertainty. I truly hope I’m wrong, but only time (and we’ve got 12 more years of that!) will tell.

        1. John Post author

          Question 1: What part of the following from the decree (Section V1, paragraph 5) do you feel is not definitive?

          “If the City does not enter into future agreements with the FAA that continue to require the City to operate the Airport After December 31, 2028, the Parties agree that the City may, in its sole discretion at any time on or after January 1, 2029, cease to operate the Airport as an airport and may close the Airport to all aeronautical use forever, subject only to the applicable 30 day notice requirements set forth in 49 U.S.C. – 46319(a) and 14 C.F.R. art 157.5(b)(2).”

          Question 2: Yes, full closure by 2023 was what we all hoped for and would have been happy with, but going the legal route there were significant risks closure might never have happened. We had a strong case, but in litigation there is always risk. Now there is none. Accepting his longer date is the nature of a compromise.

          Question 3: The reasons for secrecy have been fully discussed in the post above.

          Question 4: My reading of the agreement is that all City ordinances remain in place unchanged since they are not mentioned in the agreement and thus legally speaking are not changed by it. The avigation easmement applies only to freed up land that is a runway right now. We will continue with various additional mitigations as we would have before since nothing in this agreement prevents that (other than the explicit statement regarding leaded fuel). I see few if any unaddressed questions.

  7. Alan

    John
    Is the 11pm to 7am curfew guaranteed under the decree or must a new application be made under Section V of the decree?
    Also are the the noise limitations and fine structure to remain unchanged?
    Are the Airport Leasing Policy and Resolution to Close the airport in 2018 the only public policies affected?
    Please explain in your customary detail how you reach your conclusions. Thank you very much.
    Alan

    1. John Post author

      Yes all City ordinances such as curfews, noise ordinances, pattern flying, etc. remain in place. The mention of an extended curfew is exactly that, an offer to consider a more stringent curfew over and above that which already exists. None of these things are called out or referenced as impacted in the agreement, therefore legally speaking they are not impacted. The agreement is careful to state exactly which prior agreements are impacted by it, anything not mentioned is not impacted.

      The existing airport leasing policy in a formal sense is currently ambiguous about lease lengths although I know a number of people like to tell themselves it is otherwise, therefore while it may now have been crystalized and superseded by the agreement, it has not been violated. As to the declaration of intent to close by 2018 ‘if legally possible’, that is a declaration of intent, and now obviously it is not legally possible. Bummer. Once again however to assert that some legal violation has occurred is specious.

      Nobody is saying this is the best deal ever, it isn’t. We are not all throwing wild parties in the streets. But the fact remains this deal is now a fait accompli, and rather that rustling up further futile lawsuits to attempt to stop it, we need to work within the new bounds we have, and there is much scope and promise therein.

      1. Greg Harding

        John —

        The curfew rules currently in place have been routinely ignored for years. I live in Westdale, just east of SMO and I hear planes taking off and landing at all hours of the night, 2am, 3am, 4am — and this has been going on for years.

        What kind of enforcement is available to us? Simply fining a wealthy jet owner is not going to change any behavior.,

        Greg

        1. John Post author

          Greg,
          You are right, enforcement of the noise ordinance and curfew violations has been spotty at best over the years. This is an issue which the airport commission again raised recently, and after discussion sent a recommendation to Council to tighten up such enforcement significantly. It is my understanding from public comments made by Council members since then, that they contemplate doing exactly that moving forward. If fully enforced as currently written, then multiple violations by the same entity, even if the aircraft tail number involved is different, could ultimately result not only in large fines, but also in banning of the entire entity itself from SMO, not just the individual plane involved. Up to this point it has been on a plane-by-plane basis, which means large carriers (e.g., NetJets) with many planes can (and do) simply switch them around to avoid enforcement and fines (since they receive graduated warnings first). I believe if this ordinance were to be rigorously enforced as I describe, the problem of violations should sort itself out quite quickly. The historical data shows that if this level of enhanced enforcement had been applied consistently in the past, many of the larger operations (such as NetJets) would already have been banned completely from SMO.
          – John

          1. Alan Levenson

            John-
            If you know, please explain:
            What authority, agreement or court case allowed noise and curfew to be put into the municipal code; FAA, 1984 Agreement, or court case?
            Thank You

          2. John Post author

            The City unilaterally instituted the noise ordinance and the curfew restrictions prior to the 1984 agreement. That agreement formalized them, allowing them to remain in place. Other City ordinances (like the ban on jets) were disallowed. Since the 1984 agreement didn’t create either ordinance, its expiry does not remove them. This is confirmed by the fact that the 1984 agreement ended in 2015 and nothing has changed since about the ordinances or their enforcement.

  8. Jim Redden

    John, we disagree in a obtuse way.

    It’s a victory alright…that reads like a basic checklist for jet operations…

    3,500 Ft Runway, JetA, Airspace.

    I call it the “Santa Monica Jetport Deal”.

    1. John Post author

      You see the glass mostly empty, I see it half full. I guess for every one of us perceived reality depends on how the facts impinge on our unique internal ontologies.

      I would surmise that if one were part of a rebel force, hunkered down in the trenches for years taking fire, such as we all have been, there would be a natural tendency in most people to see anything new in the environment with suspicion and as a potential threat, and only consider it might be otherwise a long time later. Under such circumstances, any unicorn that wandered up unannounced and poked its head over the edge of the trench, would almost certainly get shot on sight. The shooter might perhaps regret that choice later, but the deed would have been done.

      This is no unicorn, but nor is it a dragon. Shell shocked and suspicious as we all may be, it deserves to be looked at carefully, ugly parts and all. That is all I am doing.

      1. Jim Redden

        More nuts and bolts rather than unicorns here… This is not an epistemological argument in my book.

        The legal hand the city held, in that the Western Parcel in not part of the IOT, and added the FAA claim that the grant assurance was extended was preposterous… So, using the veil of secrecy of supposed litigation (that the city was rather likely to prevail), the deal was done in closed doors.

        The compromise was a political one, that appeased jet owner, rather than one that fully leveraged the what was in the legal cards…

        I see soft corruption, with a wink and a nod, and a tip of the hat to NBAA special interests… It’s clear there is a faction in the city that wants the jetport, and while a minority, they are tied into development and finance.

        So now we have a jetport, and we can see just how many jet ops will result… I am will to go out an a limb and say in the next decade, they will increase…

        1. John Post author

          Well, I think perhaps it may be epistemological, because it seems to me that the argument for soft corruption and a City intent on having a jet port is logically inconsistent to its core. If as you say the City is subversively trying to create a jetport, why did it just do something that makes most of the more profitable jets completely incompatible with using Santa Monica Airport, thereby gutting the economic model for such businesses? To believe that actions that clearly harm jet operations are in fact taken in order to subversively help them is a bit of mental gymnastics that my poor brain cannot straddle. The fact that the very interests this claimed subversion is supposed to help are bitterly opposed to this deal (i.e., NBAA, AOPA, SMAA, etc.) should also tell us that perhaps the straightforward explanation is the one that applies. The City got the best deal they thought they could under the prevailing circumstances. We can certainly debate the ‘best deal’ part of it, but a nefarious conspiracy it is not.

          1. Jim Redden

            Actually, the city did formally create a jetport…see my initial post for those basic parameters met.

            To speak to your thoughts, the 3,500 foot runway leaves a very broad window for operating regional light biz jets…as a matter of fact, for a trip to the bay area, Seattle, or a quick trip to Sun Valley or Aspen, this class of jets is the most profitable… I know you well enough that you are very capable of understanding range, capacity, and fuel efficiency…easy to straddle better lower cost jet op cost per travel mile to a business model.

            While the public rhetoric of the NBAA and their action surrogate, the FAA, may seem like whining, the biz jet guys are pretty happy with this. Perhaps you may pose as a concerned customer and give them a call, and they will assure you they will be able to dispatch a fine jet consistently for all your regional needs and take your credit card to put on file…

            They (Aviation) approved this “secret” deal–at least secret to “us”, but not to Dan W and the LA Times, as he wrote about it, and the city of course, denied FAA negotiations, but did not ask for a retraction, as it was true.

            As to “best deal”, no. It was the political deal that kept open the airport, and could be sold as such. Those who studied the chess board in granular detail, teasing out the IOT issues and the very easy to see faulty grant assurance extension canard see the goal was to meet the needs of aviation and toss folks who want the park a bone, and a long future promise that turns out wasn’t even a promise, but rather, a possibility…

            The worst part of the deal is this “shortened” runway is even longer than the boundaries covered by the IOT. And the time length is even more absurd.

            Look, it’s a steaming toxic turd for at least 12 years… I agree we have to work with it as Aviation forces won, and now stay vigilant for 12 years, watch the make up of the city council, the airport commission.

            What you may see happen is this newly formed regional jetport will grow very popular with even more influential… Note, I said may… So I can happily work toward a park, but trust Tricky Ric Cole, Turncoat Ted, and Low Blow Joe Lawrence on this path. No way.

          2. John Post author

            Jim,
            I agree that 3500 ft vs. 3200 ft (which would have been equivalent to Western Parcel removal) and 2028 vs. 2023 are some of the worst aspects of this deal, however, you and I can I am sure agree to disagree as to the way we anticipate things developing from here. The mitigation isn’t over…time as always will tell.
            – John

  9. James

    John,
    Your minuses of the agreement include:
    1. Running airport for 18 years at a loss; isn’t that what prompted closure attempts?
    2. Jets still flying for 18yrs; another prompt?
    3. Leaded fuel will remain with children being born and graduating from high school, 18 more yrs of learning disabilities and death from pollution; another prompt?
    4. Flight school lessons and leases continue with dangerous flight patterns; another prompt?
    Did I mention 32 DEATHS involving 20 AVIATION accidents related to or happening at SMO!!!!!!!! IN THE LAST 18 YRS!!!!!!!
    (smpatch3/6/15)
    I also want to mention that the FAA insisted that SMO stay open till 2023 (latimes1/6/16). What happened there? No one knows because the meetings were secret.
    I’m confused, what did the citizens get?
    When you look at the above facts,why would I thank my city council who 40% of residents,myself included, don’t trust?
    (wellbeingindex2016).

    1. John Post author

      James,
      Not sure where you get 18 years from.
      I agree the continued use of leaded fuel is a terrible thing. Most of it in our immediate area relates to flight school activity.
      We shall see how long the flight schools last…mitigation measures are not over yet!
      2023 was the revised date of the grant assurances the FAA claimed (spuriously).
      Of course you are entitled to interpret the facts differently than I do. Time will tell what we got.
      – John

    2. Sergey Ryazantsev

      Citizens bertrayed by their representatives. Decision eas made without public discussion and in contradiction to previous decisions. Sad. Deal simply restores full FAA control of SMO for 12 years. City must provide aviation leases at the price before 2015 (low), City must spent $$ on safety features. City must sell gas and other aviation services at average price as other airports in the area. I have difficulties to see, how this decision can benefit myself? I do not feel, I can wait another 12 years – I probably just give up and move away from pollution … many will do the same from my generation … the result will be that airport will continue… victory!!!

      1. John Post author

        Sergey,
        Prior to this agreement, no other City has succeeded in closing an operational airport over opposition since the advent of the FAA. This tells us just how hard it is to do. Yes the timeframe is far longer than we all would have hoped. If the end date had been 2023, taking this deal would have been a no-brainer and nobody would be complaining. I am also from your generation, and I take heart in the fact that now after 40 years we are finally and firmly in the driving seat. The road to our ultimate goal may still be long, but it is easy, and we can pick the route we take. It is my hope that within a few years the airport will have become no more than a minor irritant, the expanding park will be enjoyed by all, and the city as a whole will be anxiously awaiting and planning a ‘great park’ that will become one of the world’s great park spaces and an island of nature in an otherwise sterile landscape.
        – John

  10. Peter Hartmann

    I took flying lessons at Santa Monica Airport in 1959. I distinctly recall the hatred for aviation amongst the residents of the area then. But we were a different country with a different culture then. An active airport has no place in our modern life, what we have become, and will continue to evolve into. Airports and the industrial technology they represent belong in First World countries, who value technical education in their schools. In China and India, for example, they are building new airports as fast as they can get the engineering done and the asphalt or concrete laid down. The products of our modern educational system look forward to that glorious “post-industrial” world where they don’t have to worry about things like jobs, who is going to pay for needed social services. As one writers in here notes, all over our country local governments can take heart in their campaigns to do away with that they feel are “under-utilized” local airports. I think we can be confident that the closing of Santa Monica Airport is consistant with what most present-day Americans feel should be done.

    1. John Post author

      You are correct, studies show that general aviation (GA) is in long term decline in first world countries (see chart here:http://casmat.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/02/Trends.png). Many more GA airports will close over the coming decades as the land they use it repurposed to better suit our modern lifestyle and economy. Countries that are not so well developed continue to build GA airports, just as they continue to pollute and destroy the environment. This too is reflective of the stage of development that society has reached. Your explanation of the reasons for these trends gloss over the deeper realities behind this. For full details on why this is happening, I suggest you read the ICAT report which you can find here: http://casmat.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/02/ICATReport.pdf

  11. Mike Feinstein

    Something wrong with this original posting. Can’t read on the left hand margin. Posting is out of alignment

    1. John Post author

      Mike
      It works fine on Safari and Chrome, but I note that on the iPhone in vertical mode the left margin appears to be chopped, but if you rotate the phone 90 degrees, all the text is visible. This suggests the problem relates only to the theme’s behavior when severely constrained horizontally, not to the post itself. Sure enough, when I updated the theme to the latest, the issue goes away. Thank you.
      – John

  12. Allen

    I don’t really have an opinion one way or the other on this issue yet, but I am trying to educate myself so I can form one. I do have a question for all the homeowners though: Why would you purchase a house near an airport and then try to have it shut down? I personally purchased a house near train tracks in my city, and while the noise does bother me, I don’t intend to try limiting the number of trains each day or have the tracks shut down. I did, after all, purcase the house knowing the tracks were there. And I assume you knew the airport was there as well when you all purchased?
    I know this may seem like a sarcastic question because it is very basic, but I am truly trying to understand this fundamental question and what other factors may be at play here that I am overlooking.
    Thank you,
    Allen

  13. Kenny

    Hi Allen,
    Your self-described “sarcastic” question seems to be a thinly veiled attempt to say, “you knew the airport was there when you bought, so why are you complaining.”

    The reason the homeowners bought near the airport was varied. Some could afford this area in Santa Monica, others may have liked the schools or access to the park. While their reasons for buying where they did may vary, I doubt any of them bought because the airport was there and they saw it as an asset. I’m guessing you did not see the train tracks near your home as an asset either.

    Your “question” also does not address the fact that what was once a fairly quiet propeller plane airport has turned into a very busy, noisy, smelly and dangerous jet port. If the trains running near your house got 10 times louder and far more frequent, my guess is that you might have something to say about it and it would be your right to do so.

    And while the residents were aware of the existence of the airport and bought in that area anyway, this does not deny their rights to do what they can to improve the quality of life in that area. If your logic is, “you knew it was there when you bought so you should just live with it” then we would not try to change anything in our neighborhoods or cities for the better.

    Using that logic, those who moved into areas with higher crime should just resign themselves to having higher crime. If you move in next to a company that is polluting the air you breath, you should just suck it up. And if traffic gets worse in our area, we should just live with it right? I mean, we knew about the traffic when we moved in, right?

    I’ve heard people talk about how closing the airport is just the selfish home owners in the area around the airport scheming to get their land values to go up. To those who are so jaded that they cannot see the overwhelming benefit to the community of an open space park versus a noisy, dangerous and polluting airport and need to twist it’s closure into nothing more than a clever scheme to increase land values, I say, think about the greater good of the community by putting that land to great recreational use in an urban area with a severe lack of open space.

    The benefit of the airport to the community is negligible, theoretically adding some revenue for the city, some jobs to the local economy and convenience for the very few who actually use the airport for travel. The detriment to the quality of life for the people living in the area is significant. With the closure of the airport, the improvement in the quality of life for thousands of people will be enormous and if some people enjoy a bump in their property values I can live with that.