Pollsters promote airport handcuffs for Santa Monica

Once again, just as happened in August 2011 at a politically sensitive time, a mysterious phone push poll targeted at influencing local politics regarding the airport is in progress.  Airport2Park released the following statement regarding this poll:

At the same time that the City of Santa Monica is exploring all options to confirm its rights over the land it owns at Santa Monica Airport, so that it can close the airport in 2015 when its 1984 Settlement Agreement with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) expires, unnamed pro-airport groups are using the controversial technique of “push-polling” to promote a ballot measure that would prevent Santa Monica from challenging the FAA about noise, pollution or safety at the airport, and force the City to keep the airport open in perpetuity.

Former Santa Monica Mayor Michael Feinstein received a call this week from a pollster supporting the ballot measure.  “This week I received a push poll in support of a potential measure that would prevent Santa Monica from changing from aviation uses to a public park at SMO, without it being decided in an election by a public vote,” Mr. Feinstein said. “The measure  would also permanently prevent the City from any further legal efforts to regain control of the land.” He said the call came from the 719 area code, from an organization identifying itself as Insight Research, and was told “some citizens support a ballot initiative” that would require the city to continue to operate the airport, prohibit new park uses there, and forbid the city from filing any lawsuits against the FAA.

“Santa Monica residents bought and paid for this land with a park bond in 1926.  Whomever is behind this poll, seems to believe that the residents shouldn’t pursue their legal rights to the land. Incredible,” Feinstein said. “The fact is, SMO is a local/regional health, safety and environmental hazard, that operates for the benefit of the very few, at the expense of everyone else.” 

To try to sell their arguments, Mr. Feinstein said, in what made the call a “push-poll,” the pollsters used a fear-based approach, which is strategic when you don’t have the facts on your side. According to Mr. Feinstein, “the way they phrased their questions was to scare residents to continue to operate the airport, lest the city develop a giant commercial/residential complex there instead. They were like the ‘astroturf’, fake-green groups pretending to be in favor of the environment, when in reality their practices are not.” 

At the present time the sponsor of the poll has not come forward. According, however, to John Fairweather, chair of Community Against Santa Monica Airport Traffic (CASMAT), the poll was reminiscent of another push-poll conducted on behalf of the Airport Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) in 2011 when Santa Monica was initiating its review of airport operations in anticipation of the expiration in July 2015 of its 1984 Settlement Agreement with the FAA (see here and here). While AOPA initially denied involvement in the polls, the national organization of aviation businesses and pilots later admitted paying for it (also here).  At the time, CASMAT and other anti-airport groups soundly criticized the methodology of the AOPA’s poll and the validity of any results from it.

Airport2Park.org, the group that residents formed in 2013 to turn the airport into a great park, recently sponsored a panel discussion at the Santa Monica Main Library, which Feinstein hosted (see here). At that panel, it was demonstrated how Santa Monica can develop and operate the park without new commercial development. Video of the panel is available here: Airport2Park event videos.

“The City’s obligations to operate the airport end in 2015, and it is time to start planning for a  greener future there.” said Gavin Scott of Airport2Park. “Furthermore, such development as projected by pollsters is never going to happen. The one time a past City Council tried to approve new commercial development at the airport, residents gathered 8,000 signatures to qualify a referendum against it, and the Council backed down and rescinded the project (see here). Fortunately Santa Monicans can build and operate a park without new commercial development.” 



A number of other people have told us that they are being contacted for this latest poll.  Last time around the survey was conducted for the Airline Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) which is a major national lobby organization for aviation interests.

Just as before in August 2011 (see here and here),  it appears that AOPA has denied any involvement in this survey to the local press.  Last time the AOPA denial was subsequently shown to be a lie by their vice-president Bill Dunn’s later statements to the press (see here) on May 9, 2012.  In that later interview, Bill Dunn explicitly takes AOPA ownership of the survey and tries to use it to support his position.  Clearly AOPA denials cannot be taken seriously, as the incredible similarity of the two scripts reveals (see below).  These two scripts were recorded on each occasion, more than two years apart, by a different individual taking each survey.  It appears indisputable that once again ‘Insight Research’ has been contracted by AOPA, denial notwithstanding.

The truth is that once again, national aviation interests are attempting to meddle in Santa Monica politics, no doubt the threatened ballot initiative will ultimately be entirely attributed to them.  The agenda appears to be to scare voters out of a once in a generation opportunity through misinformation, while also testing the water for an AOPA financed ballot initiative designed to tie the city’s hands as far as control of its own property.  Of course this is the only option available to them, since they are well aware that the City has the right to do anything it likes with SMO when the agreements and leases end in 2015.  The FAA motion to dismiss was simply a delaying tactic; the only way for national aviation interests to get what they want is to manipulate Santa Monica politics and fool the electorate.  It is clear that we should see such tactics as tacit admission of weakness and a sign that the City’s lawsuit is right on target, if temporarily delayed.

Santa Monica residents are not fools and will not allow themselves to be so transparently manipulated by outside forces that care nothing for our city or the people in it
If you want an insight into the AOPA strategy to manipulate residents by the outrageous and false accusation  that Airport2Park activists are simply shills for real estate developers, you need look no further that their recent SMO call to action video posted here.  AOPA describes SMO as “The most threatened airport in the nation” – sounds promising to me!

Current Poll Script 2011 Poll Script
Do you vote every time, sometimes, not often, etc.?
Are things in Santa Monica moving in the right direction or wrong direction?
What is the most important issue facing Santa Monica today?
Would you like to add anything else?
What do you think Santa Monica City Council government should focus on?
People and organizations — How well do you know them? Is your impression favorable or unfavorable?

    – Robert Holbrook
    – Terry O’Day
    – Jerry Br own
    – Santa Monica City Council
    – Gleam Davis
    – Tony Vasquez
    – Santa Monica Planning Commission
    – Ted Winterer
    – Santa Monica Airport Commission
    – Santa Monica Rent Control Board
    – Henry Waxman
    – Pam O’Connor
    – Kevin McKeown
    – Santa Monica Chamber of Commerce

City government – rate it as excellent to poor in these areas:

    – SMO
    – Maintaining streets and sidewalks
    – Flow of traffic
    – Open Space
    – Promoting jobs
    – City Spending/Budget
    – Adequate Housing Opportunities
    – Police/Public Safety
    – Planning Growth/Development

If the election were held today, are you likely to re-elect incumbents or vote for someone new?
What have you recently heard/read about SMO?
Specifically what have you heard about efforts to redevelop the airport?
Do you have a favorable or unfavorable opinion to close the airport?
Some citizens support a ballot initiative to to gain voter approval for any plan that would change the use of the airport for redevelopment purposes?What is your comfort level if the initiative did the following?

    – Prohibits rezoning for higher density development, housing, and commercial
    – Requires city to negotiate leases and manage businesses according to standard commercial practices
    – Eliminates references allowing redevelopment of businesses at the airport for higher density uses
    – Provides that three members of the airport commission are appointed by the City Council and three by airport tenants
    – Requires the city to abide by legal obligations to the FAA to continue to operate the airport
    – Require a financial audit and review of the City’s operations of the airport
    – Prohibits SMO changes to non-aviation uses
    – Removes any reference to General Plan contemplation of using SMO for anything other than an airport
    – Requires the city to operate in accordance with FAA for the benefit of avialtion and people of SM
    – Prohibits changes in open space, parks and low density uses like the airports without a vote of the people
    – Requires a vote of the people before airport can be redeveloped for other purposes
    – Prohibits the the city from filing any additional lawsuits

Now that heard more, would you vote yes or no on the initiative?
Here are some statements by SMO opponents. Are they persuasive or not?

    – Airport should be closed because pollution from aircraft is affecting air quality in the area
    – The air traffic system doesn’t need because planes can land at LAX or elsewhere
    – Airport noise is a problem for nearby residents and it should be closed
    – Airport should be closed because landing and departing aircraft are a safety hazard
    – Airport can be redeveloped for parks and other purposes that benefit the community

Here are statements from supporters of the initiative requiring a vote on how SMO is used. Are they persuasive or not?

    – SMO is a valuable resource for the community and generates revenue from businesses
    – The long and costly dispute over SMO has kept the city from focusing on real problems facing the community
    – SMO is important for many companies in the area that rely on it
    – The City has previously stated that they intend to develop the airport property with housing and shopping centers that would increase traffic congestion
    – The airport has instituted strict noise and hours rules to be a good neighbor to its residents
    – Recent decisions by the City show that they are willing to approve high density development against the peoples’ will
    – The Airport controversy is caused by a few politicians and groups, most people think the airport is OK as is
    – Politicians trying to close the airport have exposed taxpayers to costly litigation and legal judgements
    – The airport provides critical facilities for public safety and emergency services
    – SMO is a low dens ity land use and redevelopment of the land would increase density and traffic
    – The City accepted millions in grants from the Federal government and is obligated by law to keep the airport open

Now that you’ve heard arguments on both sides, if election were held today, how would you vote?
Would you vote yes for an initiative that would require a vote of the people before changing the use of airport land, or no?
What would happen if the airport were closed?

    – City officials are interested in producing tax revenue and would develop the property for commercial and other high density uses
    – City officials are interested in more open space and would develop the property as mostly parkland and low density recreational purposes

What year were you born?
How many years and months have you lived here?
Do you rent or own your current residence?
Would you describe your family’s ethnic heritage as…..?
Are either of your parents of hispanic origin?
What is your employment status?
What is your political ideology, Democrat or Republican?
Stop me when I reach a category that describes your annual household income

Are you a county or city employee?
Are you registered to vote?
Do you vote every time, sometimes, not often, etc.?
Do you vote early by mail or in person?
Are you certain to vote in the next election, or unlikely?
Media — from “every day” to “never”

    – Newspapers
    – Magazines/journals
    – Internet
    – TV
    – Radio

How do you get local Santa Monica news?
zip code?
Is Santa Monica going in the right direction or the wrong direction?
Which issue in Santa Monica is most important to you?
What is the most important issue now for Santa Monica government?
People and organizations — How well do you know them? Is your impression favorable or unfavorable?

    – Pam O’Connor
    – Santa Monica Rent Control Board
    – Santa Monica Planning Commission
    – City Council
    – Bobby Shriver
    – Mayor Richard Bloom
    – Bob Holbrook
    – Governor Jerry Brown
    – Terry O’Day
    – Chamber of Commerce
    – Airport Commission
    – Kevin McKeown
    – Rep. Henry Waxman
    – Gleam Davis

City government – rate it as excellent to poor in these areas:

    – Maintaining streets and sidewalks
    – Ensuring adequate housing opportunities
    – Attracting employers and small businesses?
    – Providing for public safety?
    – Easing the flow of traffic?
    – Planning for growth and development?
    – Keeping taxes reasonable
    – Managing Santa Monica Airport
    – Managing city spending and budgets
    – Providing open space

If the current City Council members were up for re-election, would you vote for them or someone new?
What Santa Monica Airport (SMO) issues have been in the news lately?
SMO has its supporters and its critics. Do the positives outweigh the negatives, or do the negatives outweigh the positives?
Do you want SMO to close or stay open?
Have there been any changes in policies at SMO lately regarding noise, operations, types of aircraft, etc.?
What is your opinion (favorable, unfavorable) regarding changes at SMO over the years?

    – Noise barriers
    – Flight path changes to avoid sensitive areas
    – Facilities
    – Departure curfew from 11 PM to 7 AM
    – Providing land for Airport Park
    – Being financially self-sufficient
    – Providing facilities for businesses, restaurants, etc.
    – Prohibiting aircraft that don’t meet new – – Noise and other standards

Here are some statements by SMO opponents. Are they persuasive or not?

    – The noise is unacceptable.
    – Planes can land elsewhere.
    – Businesses can locate elsewhere.
    – Safety of landings and departures is a problem.
    – The airport land can be redeveloped.
    – Pollution from the airport is affecting air quality.

Here are some statements by SMO supporters. Are they persuasive or not?

    – Most flights in and out of SMO are business-related.
    – Noise has been restricted.
    – The city has accepted millions of dollars from the federal government.
    – Major employers have moved to Santa Monica because of SMO.
    – Most people approve of the airport; only a few people oppose it.
    – SMO is an important part of the air traffic system.
    – The city is obligated by law to keep SMO open and will be sued if it closes the airport.
    – SMO provides significant revenue for the city.
    – Closing SMO would cost the city jobs.
    The FAA says that SMO is safe.
    – Redeveloping the airport land would lead to more buildings and traffic.

Now you’ve heard both sides. Should SMO be kept open or closed?
Which of the following is true?

    – The city is interested in open space and would build more parks if SMO were closed.
    – The city would develop the land if SMO were closed.

Which of the following do you agree with?

    – The city should definitely close the airport.
    – The city should keep the airport open.

How long have you lived in Santa Monica?
Do you own or rent your home?
What is your ethnic background?
What is your work status?
Politically speaking, are you a Republican or a Democrat?
What’s your zipcode?