Every time there is an article in the press regarding Santa Monica Airport (SMO) and its future, it seems that the comment chain always degenerates into the same pattern. On the one side are the airport proponents who claim those that want the airport changed are engaged in NIMBYism and put forth the argument that “The airport was there first and you knew it, so you have no right to complain and should move away”. On the other side are the people from the surrounding neighborhoods whose argument is that, “Yes, the airport was there before, but it has changed, is adversely impacting lives and health, and so is no longer compatible with a residential neighborhood.”
The problem with an argument based on “being there before” is that it is only valid providing nothing whatsoever changes. This is certainly not the case for SMO, so the debate about SMO’s future is perfectly valid and appropriate. In this vein, perhaps an analogy might shed some light.
A family bought their dream house in a nice area. Next door there lived a lady who kept a great many cats, and often the family woke to yowling in the night. But the cats were friendly enough and, after all, the cat lady was there first, and so the neighbors peacefully coexisted for many years.
Then the cat lady saw a documentary on the big cats. Suddenly, domestic cats were not good enough, she wanted lions! The cat lady had many cages built in her back yard, and she filled them with lions. She doted on the lions, but caring for them took all her time, money, and attention, and so many of her other cats went feral.
The neighbors complained about the noise, the smell, the flies, the feral cats, and the danger of escaped African lions in the community, but the cat lady paid no attention. She and her friends told them that because she already had cats when they bought their houses, they had no right to complain and should move away.
The average female domestic cat weighs 10 lbs, and the average African lioness weighs around 300 lbs, a factor of 30 times heavier. A small Cessna aircraft weighs around 1,700 lbs while a G4 Gulfstream weighs in around 58,000 lbs, a factor of over 30 times. A Gulfstream is to a Cessna as a lion is to a tabby.
Before the mid 1990s, Santa Monica airport had no large class C & D jets, and almost no jet departures. Today it has many large jets, and over 12,000 jet operations annually. The runway does not meet the FAA’s own published safety standards for C & D jets.
Much of the time, flight schools execute almost continuous practice loops over the surrounding residential neighborhoods. More often than not, on any given day, they fly more loops at SMO than are flown that day at Van Nuys, which is the world’s busiest general aviation airport.
The argument that “the airport was here first” exactly parallels the story of the cat lady. I am quite sure no rational person would claim the neighbors had no right to complain about the cat lady. To make such an assertion would be specious.
So it is with the argument that “the airport was here first.” When things change out of all proportion, those impacted have a right to demand that things go back to how they were before and, if they do not, that either the cat lady goes, or that the authorities step in and remove some or all of the cats, especially the big ones and those that are feral.