By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
It was just the latest episode in the city’s losing battle to limit jets at an airstrip that has been around since Howard Hughes and McDonald Douglas were pioneering air travel in the beachside city at the end of the first World War.
Ever since the term “jet setter” was coined, jets have been zooming in and out of Santa Monica Airport carrying entertainers and Hollywood stars heading to Vegas on a whim at all hours. Back then, the jets were far noisier, and the neighbors complained just as loudly.
“Back in the old days, in the mid-’60s and mid-’70s, most big jets were about 10 times louder,” said Trimborn. “Everybody for miles around could hear them take off.”
The noise was so loud, Santa Monica banned jets from the airport — which the federal government controlled during World War II, and then returned to the city after the war. Longtime neighbors like Ernst still fondly recall the huge “No Jets” sign posted at the end of the runway that signaled a respite from noise so loud it rattled windows.
“When the sign was up there, I put a huge amount of money into remodeling my house,” said Margaret Williamson, who bought the house next door to Ernst in 1966.
The relative calm lasted only until the Santa Monica Airport Association, made up of local pilots, sued. On September 10, 1979, U.S. District Court Judge IrvingHill ruled that Santa Monica’s jet ban violated interstate commerce and equal-protection laws. The neighboring residents tending quiet yards along some of the most beautiful middle-class streets in Southern California were horrified. Surely the pollution that coated their yards and the incessant roar posed a health hazard, they thought. They stepped up their lobby.
Ernst was a key player in the battle. A 10-year-old video shot in her backyard shows lawn furniture blowing away as a jet streaks overhead. (See www.laweekly.com/news for video clip.) In the late 1990s, Ernst and a couple of neighbors sued the city and gained what turned out to be a Pyrrhic victory when a jury ordered the city to pay 6 percent of the assessed value of the plaintiffs’ homes, largely to help homeowners move away. But instead, Ernst says, “All the money went to attorneys” who fought the suit.
Last month, residents were dealt another setback when the Democratically controlled Senate Appropriations Committee in Sacramento, headed by Senate President Don Perata and Appropriations Chair Tom Torlakson, failed to back a bill that would have for the first time measured jet pollution around the airport, marking the second time Democrats have quashed the bill.
Residents blamed the Legislature and Santa Monica City Council, which supported the pollution-measuring plan — but helped doom it when council members made clear they would not pay for its associated costs.
Known for its pioneering antismoking laws and ban on Styrofoam containers, the council turned its back, activists charge. Says Rubin, “Santa Monica has shown that it can talk the talk, but it repeatedly walks feebly.”