Nearly seven months into the third phase of Santa Monica Airport’s "visioning process," the struggle continues between the Airport Commission and city staffers over how comprehensive the process should be.
Specifically, the commission wants staff to be more assertive in studying scenarios for closing the airport in mid-2015, upon the expiration of the city’s operating agreement with the Federal Aviation Administration, or mitigating its negative impacts even sooner. (The FAA insists the 1984 agreement is binding until 2023).
The commission and a large segment of the public want city staffers, and the consultants the city hires, to consider scenarios the commission has recommended for a reduction of flight operations.
But no such scenarios were in the staff progress report presented Monday night at the first of two public workshops that are part of Phase 3, bringing criticism from more than a dozen members of the public and several commissioners.
See also: Airport Visioning Phase 2 Finale Reflects Unease
Public Works Director Martin Pastucha pointedly reminded the commission—as he has before—that the staff doesn’t work for the commission and answers only to the City Council.
Pastucha assured Chairman David Goddard that the commission’s recommendations for interim efforts to reduce flight operations had all been passed on to the City Council.
"Staff has not been given any direction to follow through on those," Pastucha said. "If [the council] decide[s] not to act upon it, it’s not our responsibility."
Goddard took exception, saying staffers had not brought commission recommendations to the council.
"You chose five recommendations during the visioning process that were the five talking points of the pilots, who constituted about 20 percent of the participants," Goddard said, referring to the Phase 2 outreach/survey groups in which more than 300 people participated.
By contrast, Goddard said, 80 percent of the participants asked the city to study the airport's closure or reduction in its flight operations.
"Not one of the reduction items were recommended by staff to city council," Goddard said. "They were ignored."
Commissioner Ofer Grossman, referring to the council’s May directive that opened Phase 3, said one listed goal was to look at ways to make SMO a "better neighbor." He interpreted that to mean staff could consider the kinds of actions the commission wants explored, such as possible reduction of flight school operations.
Pastucha suggested such a discussion could incur the legal wrath of the FAA. The city attorney has said the city’s legal strategies cannot be revealed.
With the visioning process scheduled to end in spring of next year, Grossman said it’s time for the city to tell the public that it is at least considering the closure of the airport or reducing flight operations, or risk completely discrediting the visioning process.
At Pastucha’s suggestion, the commission will hold a special December meeting to ask the city to allow and direct staff to study options for SMO that go beyond voluntary flight reductions and fly-neighborly programs.
Sunset Park resident Cathy Larson praised the staff, but said, "on this particular issue, the community really, really, feels—you’re deaf."
It was the closest anyone came to actually mentioning the city’s stated Goal No. 1 for Phase 3: "Address concerns about transparency, communications and trust."