Don’t Close the Airport

nimbyI sent this off to my congressional representative this morning. I also sent copies to my two senators and the Administrator for the Federal Aviation Administration. I don’t pretend that it will do any good, but every now and then the NIMBY people start to bother me and I go off on a rant.

They are out there on the ‘net promising the people of Santa Monica a park instead of an airport, and spreading fear, uncertainty and disinformation about the airport. From previous reading, it will be very difficult for the City of Santa Monica to close a federally-funded airport. The City already spent five million dollars in legal fees trying to do it, and failed.

It’s very short-sighted, but the lack of long-range planning and strategic views are a lot of my problems with how the world is run. I only let myself slip into one of these rants every two years or so, then I think it’s out of my system for a little bit.

Representative Lieu:

This letter is attached to your Privacy Release Form so that you can share it with the media and the FAA Administrator. I understand that you are meeting with him on July 8. If I am in the area I will try to attend the meeting. I fear that you have been fed some misinformation and you will have a flood of echo’d responses making it seem that my neighbors are in favor of closing the Santa Monica Airport.

I am a pilot and a small plane owner and I am based at the Santa Monica airport. I have been there for over a decade, contributing to the businesses that operate there, contributing to the revenue that the airport collects for the City of Santa Monica, and I have watched this concerted effort to close the airport with growing dismay. When I talk to my neighbors they do not support closing it, so it is a clever campaign to present a vocal minority.

I am an airport supporter. I have written too long a letter, but you can count me as a supporter and know that the facts do not support any of the fear mongering you maybe subjected to.

There is a group of developers and their lobbyists working quietly behind the scenes to close the airport because it is worth over a billion dollars if it is cut up. It is the perfect scheme because they contribute to the campaigns of the city council members and the legal costs of attempting to close the airport are borne by the City’s taxpayers. Yes, private profits and public costs for the assumed risks to implement the plan. (Who paid to fly our mayor in for the meeting?)

Of course, the best motivator for moving a handful of residents to raise vocal objections to the airport is fear. Excellent in the short-term, it is paired with a pie-in-the-sky promise of Parks for Airports as a long term draw. I believe that you should explore a few of the claims that are being made, and keep in mind that this is not a zero-sum game. If the airport goes away, something will replace it. There is no budget to simply replace it with a two hundred acre park. Even if there were, there is no continuing budget for maintaining a park and even if there were it would be a huge draw for all of the surrounding communities (so, traffic, parking, transient visitors).

Let’s address the fears:

Safety

Is there a safety threat and danger related to the airport? Well, closing it would mean that first responders would be further from our community. There are Civil Air Patrol aircraft based at SMO which are used for search and rescue efforts. Oh, is there a danger from the aircraft to the surrounding neighborhood? I’d point to the fact that there have been planes flying in and out of the airport for a hundred years and there has never been a fatality on the ground. Never. Even when it was the Douglas Aircraft Company’s factory and they flew just-assembled aircraft off the end of the runway toward the ocean.

Apparently there is a contingent of the anti-airport group that wants to ban jets. This is a perfect example of how the astro-turfing groups have kept their sheep ignorant: jets are safer than piston aircraft. They are more reliable, cleaner, and over time have gotten quieter at a faster rate than their piston-driven counterparts. They are claiming to be worried about health and safety and want to ban the planes that are better for both.

Most importantly, the Santa Monica Airport is part of a national system of aviation infrastructure. Closing it is short-sighted. Since you are going to be meeting with the FAA ask about recently commercial aviation accidents which might have been avoided if the pilots had more training. (I can tell you that the Air Asiana accident into SFO was certainly one.) Closing a local airport removes training opportunities. And NIMBY opponents will always say, “They should train somewhere else,” but it is clear that they do not want to contribute to the infrastructure necessary, but they do not want the adverse effects of not having a proper infrastructure either. It is the job of community leaders like yourself to point out when long term thinking is necessary. I would bet the FAA Administrator has some good information to guide you in your stance.

Health

Sadly, the air of Los Angeles is not as clean as the air of unpopulated areas along the coast. We have ten million people trying to share a slice of paradise, using six million cars. Airport opponents talk of asthma, cardiovascular and brain disease. Check to see how many are driving electric cars. Are they part of the problem or are they trying to be part of the solution?

The health threat of five hundred operations per day is negligible compared to what is happening on the I-10, elevated above the neighborhood so that the fumes and brake dust float down onto the houses. Are you stopping at the DoT after the FAA to see about shutting down the I-10?

Since these arguments seem rather simple and rational, what is happening? The most telling thing to look at is the proposition on the ballot last spring. It was simple and it just gave the power to decide the fate the airport to the People of Santa Monica. The moment it popped up on the radar, a competing group formed pushing a different proposition and splitting the vote with confusion (and the usual fear).

How could it have been bad to allow the actual population to decide on a new use for the airport land? Because it is not the people that the City Council is concerned with, it is dollars. They see a 50×150 lot in Santa Monica sell for $3m as a tear down and they get dreamy about developing the two hundred acres. All that money. They know what is best for City residents, and it is the promise of a park with the reality of more development. Not sure that’s what’s happening? Try slipping in an addendum that if they airport is closed it can only be park land. See how long you stay in office.

While you are talking to the administrator see if you can get the instrument departure untangled from the missed approach off LAX’s north-side runways. That’s one of the things that keeps the jets idling waiting for departure. (The new computer system has cut this delay an order of magnitude, but they still have to work out a break in LAX north-side arrivals for a SMO departure.)

And if the residents were really concerned with safety they would ask the FAA for a WAAS approach into SMO that would get the planes lined up sooner on the centerline of the runway. They have, instead, blocked those efforts. See if you can get that effort restarted through the FAA. I mean, if you really believe it is your responsibility to increase the safety of those around the airport.

Sincerely yours,

Colin Summers

About Colin Summers

I am an architect, programmer, private pilot, husband and father. A couple of those I am good at.
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