FAA agrees to 2028 close of Santa Monica Airport

spirit-of-santa-monica.jpgDC-3 on display at Santa Monica Airport. LA Observed photo.

For the first time in the long controversy over Santa Monica Airport, the city of Santa Monica has the go-ahead from the Federal Aviation Administration to close the busy municipal airport. An agreement between the city and the FAA announced on Saturday allows SMO to stop being an airport after Dec. 31, 2028. The agreement requires the city to operate the airport fully until then. Santa Monica is also allowed to to shorten the runway to 3,500 feet from the current 4,973 feet, a move the city says should reduce the number of jet takeoffs and landings.

“This is a historic day for Santa Monica,” said Mayor Ted Winterer. “After decades of work to secure the health and safety of our neighborhoods, we have regained local control of airport land. We now have certainty that the airport will close forever and future generations of Santa Monicans will have a great park.”

The city council in Santa Monica has voted formally to close the airport, despite divisions in the community about the airport, which dates from before 1923. If the shutdown goes through, I can't imagine a bigger environmental impact on the Westside of Los Angeles. The noise from airplanes on the ground and in the air affects areas for miles around the field, and of course is worst in the section of Los Angeles just east of the runway and the neighborhoods of Santa Monica west of the airport boundary. There are also occasional crashes into homes, or in the case of actor-pilot Harrison Ford in 2015, into the nearby Penmar golf course.

Of course, the future impact will depend on what Santa Monica decides to do with the acreage, which basically abuts residential neighborhoods on three sides. The airport currently supports a community of aviators, flight schools and other flying services, a flying-themed restaurant, offices for lease, at least one stage and art facilities, the Barker Hangar event venue, soccer fields and a dog park.

Santa Monica Airport, originally called Clover Field, was dedicated by the U.S. Army Air Corps in 1923 and became city owned in 1926. Donald Douglas, the Southern California aviation pioneer, moved his factory there from a grass-runway airport that had been located on the north side of Wilshire Boulevard just west of 26th Street. The Douglas Aircraft Company manufactured the iconic DC-3 workhorse before, during and after World War II at SMO, which had two intersecting runways until the war, when the current single basically east-west runway was built.

During that time, the north side of the airport along Ocean Park Boulevard was dominated by the Douglas plant and services that supported thousands of aircraft workers. In 1940, Andel Adams photographed the industrial community along Ocean Park Blvd. on assignment for Fortune magazine and later donated his pictures to the Los Angeles Public Library photo collection. Douglas turned out 10,724 aircraft at Santa Monica before leaving for Long Beach, which occurred over some years and became final in 1975.

Here's the FAA release on Saturday's news.

WASHINGTON–The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the City of Santa Monica, California have reached a settlement agreement to resolve longstanding litigation over the future of Santa Monica Airport.

The agreement requires the city to maintain continuous and stable operation of the airport for 12 years, until December 31, 2028, and after that the City has the right to close the airport.

In recognition of the city's authority to make decisions about land use, the agreement allows Santa Monica to shorten the airport's single runway to 3,500 feet from its current length of 4,973 feet. The city is obligated to enter into leases with private aeronautical service providers to ensure continuity of those services until the runway is shortened and it decides to provide such services on its own.

"Mutual cooperation between the FAA and the city enabled us to reach this innovative solution, which resolves longstanding legal and regulatory disputes," said FAA Administrator Michael Huerta. "This is a fair resolution for all concerned because it strikes an appropriate balance between the public's interest in making local decisions about land use practices and its interests in safe and efficient aviation services."

Here is the city's release.

Santa Monica, Calif. -- On Saturday, January 28, 2017, Santa Monica City Council announced an agreement was reached with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) that secures the complete closure of Santa Monica Airport on December 31, 2028.

“This is a historic day for Santa Monica,” said Mayor Ted Winterer. “After decades of work to secure the health and safety of our neighborhoods, we have regained local control of airport land. We now have certainty that the airport will close forever and future generations of Santa Monicans will have a great park.”

The City of Santa Monica held a press conference at 2 p.m. today, Saturday, January 28, to share this historic announcement and review the terms of the agreement made with the FAA and the U.S. Department of Justice. Santa Monica Mayor Ted Winterer, City Manager Rick Cole, City Attorney Joseph Lawrence, and Sr. Airport Advisor Nelson Hernandez shared the following:

  • Closure of Santa Monica Airport to all aeronautical use forever as of December 31, 2028
  • The airport’s runway shall have an operational runway length of 3,500 feet, significantly reducing jet traffic
  • S. Government acknowledgement that City of Santa Monica has the right to establish its own proprietary exclusive fixed based operation (FBO) services
  • Airport property released from all deed restrictions
  • Consent decree
  • Settles all legal disputes between City and the federal government about the Airport
  • This agreement comes after a longstanding legal battle and multiple court cases between the City and the FAA. This concludes all litigation between the City of Santa Monica and the FAA.

“No compromise is perfect, but we never wavered from course guided by the City Council and the will of our community,” said City Manager Rick Cole. “Today’s historic Consent Decree agrees to an operational runway of 3,500 feet, which we plan to implement immediately. This will significantly reduce jet traffic flying over our neighborhoods and stops commercial charters until we close operations in 2028.”

“I congratulate the city council, city manager, city attorney, and all of the city staff who have doggedly pursued a successful strategy and brought an end to a decades-long effort,” said Assemblymember Richard Bloom. “As the former Mayor of Santa Monica, I worked on this issue for the nearly 14 years of my council tenure and recognize the tenacity, courage, and resilience that it takes to go up against a massive federal agency that had dug in its heels for decades. Today’s settlement is a watershed moment in Santa Monica history that benefits the city and many surrounding communities.”

“This is a huge win for the residents of Santa Monica and the surrounding region,” said Congressmember Karen Bass. “This is a great example of what can happen when the community comes together to work for change.”

For more information on the litigation history, visit this page.

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