Update: L.A. City Councilman Bill Rosendahl says he has some tricks up his sleeve to possibly take down the airport before 2015. Also, he calls it “a health emergency for the lungs of my people.” More drama below.
Originally posted October 18 at 12:50 p.m.
For one, the Federal Aviation Administration directs southern flight traffic from Santa Monica Airport over L.A. — and Venice, specifically — instead of its town of origin. This has long been perceived as an appeasement to wealthy SaMo residents who want their private landing strips but don't want to deal with the downsides.
And the hole-in-the-wall airport's positioning — nestled into a dense, quiet middle-class community — makes for some definite downsides.
The noise, exhaust fumes and signal interruptions that rain down day and night are a constant source of outrage for neighbors in both Venice and its less arty counterpart up the coast.
Concerned Residents Against Airport Pollution, the driving force and flyer-distributor behind the discontent, renewed its efforts to shut down Santa Monica Airport (SMO) last week.
According to the Santa Monica Daily Press, two Brits calling themselves the Aviation Justice Express spoke via conference call to a roomful of local protesters on Saturday night.
(Fun fact: One of the speakers, Dan Glass, “is an environmental activist best known for his creative ways of drawing attention to his cause, like super-gluing himself to then Prime Minister Gordon Brown.” Hot damn.)
Then, on Sunday, with L.A. City Councilman and fierce anti-SMO activist Bill Rosendahl by their side, the protesters staged an occupation of sorts at the intersection of National Boulevard and Bundy Drive, near the airport.
One Venice resident recently told us that Rosendahl is in fact so vehement about the cause, he's even threatened to lay down on the SMO runway. Beat that, Brits! (We've contacted the councilman to confirm. Update: Confirmed. Details below.)
Saturday's picket signs reportedly blasted messaged like “Fly Clean or Don't Fly” and “Santa Monica: No on cigarettes, soft on jet pollution.”
However, airport director Robert Trimborn claims that SMO has “the strictest noise program of any airport in the United States,” and complies with the same Clean Air Act standards as any other flight facility.
It's more the centralized location of the airport, he explains, that has residents up in arms.
“At one point in time, we were in the middle of the country[side],” he says. But now, “if you look at an aerial picture of the airport, we're deeply embedded in an urban environment.”
Ironically, that transition had everything to do with the airport itself. The Douglas Aircraft Company set up shop in the early 1920s. By the 1930s and '40s, according to SMO's proud website…
Douglas employed up to 44,000 employees working three shifts – 24/7. Housing had to be built for those employees and it was built in the area surrounding the airport – Both L.A. & Santa Monica zoned residential up to the perimeter of the Airport and adjoining roadways to accommodate the housing demand.
History! Anyway: Despite this new push for a shutdown, city officials have expressed that there's not much they can do until 2015, when a grant obligation with the federal government expires.
(FAA officials, on the other hand, maintain that it actually expires in 2023, because they think the 20-year obligation should start once the grants funds are used up, not when they're bestowed. In case things weren't slow and complicated enough for you.)
“One of most frustrating things for the public is there are all these jurisdictional issues with aviation,” says SMO director Trimborn.
Some argue that finding middle ground may be the best way to go, in the interest of not waiting another five to 10 years for relief. One Daily Press commenter offers two “ideas in the spirit of compromise”:
(1) Fine all planes that violate curfew, $20,000 for jets and $5,000 for props. That will stop the cheaters who think nothing of robbing thousands of their much-needed sleep in order to enjoy their flying late at night.
(2) Eliminate ALL flight schools. Noise would go down dramatically, and safety would be dramatically increased. It would be sad for these six business owners, but it's six against 30,000. Who is more important? Those six or those 30,000 that they, every day, all day, inconvenience, pollute, and imperil?
Sounds like a good start. And while we're at it, might we suggest that the dog park at SMO open its doors to dogs with L.A. addresses, as well, considering the airport's consequences extend well beyond the V.I.P. tape. (No joke.)
Update: We spoke with Bill Rosendahl yesterday afternoon about SMO, one of his top issues as councilman for the Westside district.
“It doesn't belong there anymore,” he says. Here are the things the local pol is doing to hopefully wipe the airport off the map:
1. He's having City Attorney Carmen Trutanich “look into” what Los Angeles can do with parcels of its own land that dot SMO, including a “takeoff spot and a landing.” Rosendahl thinks this might be key to sabotaging airport operations from within.
2. He's lobbying Henry Waxman, a candidate for the next U.S. House of Representatives election in June 2012. (And he encourages residents to do the same!) Because of California's recent redistricting victory, Waxman will probably inherit Venetians into his voter base — ironic, considering he's the same guy who previously won wealthy Santa Monicans their request to be excluded from the SMO flight path. (Rosendahl says the FAA is just the “pitbull” of the federal government; in other words, Washington politicians are the only ones who can tell them to change flight rules, or shut down an airport.) We'll see if Waxman honors his new constituents with the same favor.
3. He's getting madder. Rosendahl says that if elected officials continue to stall and the airport is preserved as is, he'll resort to drastic measures. “I have said more than once that me and 200 or 300 of my friends” would stage a protest on an actual runway, he tells the Weekly. “Maybe thats the direction we'll have to go. We've had enough of this airport.”
And if that doesn't work: “Frankly, we're going to start embarrassing the super rich celebrities that fly out of there.” Now that's something we'd like to see — Rosendahl versus Schwarzenegger.