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Tension Escalates Between Airport Commission, City

Santa Monica Airport Commission Chairman says he can't trust city staffers, but City Manager says it's taking recommendations seriously.

In an email to city leaders this week, the chairman of the Santa Monica Airport Commission criticized city staffers for not heeding recommendations that would substantially curtail aircraft operations.

To some extent, the city's top administrator, City Manager Rod Gould, said he doesn't refute the chairman's contention. But that's because he and the City Attorney's office believe several of the commission's proposals would incite lawsuits from the Federal Aviation Administration.

Chairman David Goddard took the extra step this week of directly contacting City Council members, asking them to weigh in on one of the commission's recommendations. Specifically, Goddard requested they place on their September agenda a of all aircraft at the Santa Monica Airport.

Traditionally, staffers pass along to the City Council the recommendations voted on by the commission and other advisory boards, but Goddard said putting the commission's requests in staffers' hands "was a poor strategy."

"The request directly to the decision makers is an attempt to insure the recommendations, and specifically the FORR, receive the appropriate consideration," he wrote in an email.

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The ordinance will not be on the agenda, Gould said.

The proposed FORR is based in part on a 1998 case in which New York City successfully used its ownership powers at a heliport to reduce sightseeing flights by 47 percent, and to phase out weekend operations. In the legal battle that followed, federal courts upheld the city's action. The suit was between the city and the helicopter company; the Federal Aviation Administration did not take part.

The city attorney and planning director have said the city might be able to use its proprietary rights in trying to soften the airport's negative effects sooner than 2015. But they said the New York case "is of limited utility to Santa Monica" because New York had no contractual obligation to the FAA and Santa Monica does—at least until 2015.

"David Goddard wants to say, 'the city should take whatever steps are necessary to immediately reduce flight operations and close Santa Monica Airport and the FAA won’t care or do anything about it," the city manager said. "Neither of those are true in my opinion... we’ve concluded that if we were to take that action, particularly at this time, we would lose on many grounds."

But that's not to say the city isn't listening, Gould noted.

He said staffers are sussing out a proposal to charge landing fees to Santa Monica Airport-based aircrafts. Currently, fees for landing at the airport are charged to aircrafts not based at the airport. Once a nexus study assessing fees charged at other general aviation airports is complete, it will be presented to the City Council, he said.

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Goddard's predecssor, , had also pointed fingers at the city.

When staffers commissioned two studies about the future of the airport, he said they fell short of the community's expectations. And when he asked to review materials that were to be presented by city staffers to community stakeholder groups, Gould responded, "your request and comments imply that staff cannot be trusted."

Joanne September 08, 2012 at 12:09 AM
Re: Gould responded, "your request and comments imply that staff cannot be trusted." Well Mr. Gould, your automatic defense of "staff", would seem to imply that you are part of the problem, and not the solution!
Jack Jemison September 08, 2012 at 04:08 PM
The anti airport crowd needs to get a dictionary and look up the word perpetuity. When the Feds gifted the airport to the city, contained in the instrument of transfer was a clause that stated the city would operate an airport in perpetuity. If you don't like the airport MOVE! Where's the outrage at the light rail maintaince yard disturbing a neighborhood already close to the free way? Where's the outrage for the neighborhood next to the 405 expansion project?It doesn't get voiced by these hypocrites. These people were able to buy into the sm zip code specifically because of the airport and know that if it closes their value goes up. It's just greed. I am so pleased the airport is going to stay open past 2015 and can't wait till we see the for sale signs in these idiots yards .
Glenn E Grab September 08, 2012 at 07:23 PM
why don't you gripers give up trying to close the airport?...... it's commissioned under a Federal mandate , grand-fathered in, and is used by the wealthy liberals you yourselves elected....you'll never win...besides it's been here over 70 years, you knew about it when you moved inyo the heighborhood....my advice to you.....MOVE OUT!!!....
Dan Charney September 08, 2012 at 08:04 PM
Once again, the brilliant city staffers can only think of money and that will again stop the small schools and indie pilots- only the wealthy and corporate owned craft will be able to stay- come to think of it, maybe there is a hot tin hanger out there we can shove the seniors into for lunch instead of moving them from paradise on the bluffs to busy 4th street in a windowless room- this city is getting ridiculous- I hear money clinking every where-
Brenda Barnes September 08, 2012 at 08:58 PM
As a resident of a property the City's staff has taken even criminal actions to try to get closed by developer,, I can tell you the quotation from your article--To some extent, the city's top administrator, City Manager Rod Gould, said he doesn't refute the chairman's contention. But that's because he and the City Attorney's office believe several of the commission's proposals would incite lawsuits from the Federal Aviation Administration--undoubtedly hides a multitude of sins on the City's part. See continued comment below.
Brenda Barnes September 08, 2012 at 09:09 PM
Many laws require actions to be done in a certain order, protecting rights of the public, but Santa Monica has made a pattern of using "potential litigation" as an excuse to discuss development in closed meetings and make decisions years in advance of disclosure to the public, then direct its staff to help developers in all kinds of unlawful ways. The Brown Act, for example, requires all development and other decisions to be made in a public meeting, disclosed after public hearing and as they are made, not after scrambling enough eggs that undoing the City's actions is difficult, or they claim, impossible, The California Environmental Quality Act, CEQA, requires preparation, public comment about, and true consideration of environmental impacts of development before a decision is made, not as a check-off years later, as Santa Monica does it. Even RICO, a federal statute originally meant to prosecute organized crime syndicates but since applied to City and County agencies that conspire with developers to extort, coerce, and in effect abet thievery of the public's property by developers, prohibits the City's staff and the City Council from conspiring together to help developers in advance of public comment. The Constitution of California states we do not delegate to our representatives the right to decide what we are entitled to know about the conduct of public affairs. We sure don't delegate it to unelected staff like the City Manager and the City Attorney.
Brenda Barnes September 08, 2012 at 09:34 PM
That the "potential litigation" is a ruse the City Manager and Attorney use to give an excuse for making decisions unlawfully without following required procedures allowing public input and requiring public disclosure as decisions are made, not afterwards, is indicated by your story part: "The proposed FORR is based in part on a 1998 case in which New York City successfully used its ownership powers at a heliport to reduce sightseeing flights by 47 percent, and to phase out weekend operations. In the legal battle that followed, federal courts upheld the city's action. The suit was between the city and the helicopter company; the Federal Aviation Administration did not take part." See continuation of comment below.
Brenda Barnes September 08, 2012 at 09:58 PM
This makes it clear there is no real litigation threat by the FAA. The litigation involved was by a helicopter company, not the FAA. Moreover, the City was SUCCESSFUL in the litigation the FORR follows. This is the same kind of bogus "potential litigation" threat the City Manager and Attorney used in 2007 to allow the Council to make a decision to approve the development agreement for the Village Trailer Park in East Santa Monica near Colorado and Centinela. Developers claimed they had a state law right to go out of the mobilehome park business without local permits. The Rent Control Board said they required a local permit. The issue had already been litigated to the California SUPREME COURT in the Nash case, where developers lost and the City and RCB were parties. The very same company claiming state law preemption of the rent control removal permit requirement had claimed state law preempted local rent control law in a 2002 case. They had lost at the RCB, Superior Court, and Court of Appeal levels. However, when in 2007 they "threatened litigation" against the City, if their development agreement were not processed, claiming preemption by state law so they did not need a removal permit, we know now the City agreed to approve the development agreement. In a closed meeting and directing staff to do whatever was necessary to make it happen--in our case including violating City, state, and federal laws and both state and federal constitutions.
Brenda Barnes September 08, 2012 at 10:12 PM
Therefore, Goddard is right to think the Airport Commission's recommendations of alternatives to closing the Airport are not being taken seriously by City Staff. Our experience, however, shows discovery in future litigation would show COUNCIL DIRECTED STAFF to do what it is doing--closing discussion of alternatives to closing or drastically reducing the size of the Airport. This scenario fits with the Council's pattern of using bogus "potential litigation" as the excuse for discussing in closed sessions how to carve up the City for developers. All Council members involved have many jobs working for related agencies and companies to fill in their futures. They know which side their bread is buttered on. That is not on the side of the Airport Commission or the residents of Sunset Park. 20,000 Santa Monica voters, the number needed to elect Council members, should realize there is no end to development plans in sight..We must elect pro-resident City Councils and put their feet to that fire after we do. Village Trailer Park residents are not only homeowners, like the homeowners of Sunset Park. We also are covered by leasehold and anti-eviction rights under rent control, unlike those Sunset Park homeowners. When the City Council decides to reduce the size of the Airport by putting in buffer zones and taking out rows of Sunset Park homes, you will not have rent control to protect you. You will need your fellow residents instead.
Glenn E Grab September 09, 2012 at 02:34 PM
bravo, Jack, my sentiments exactly....

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