Santa Monica Officials, Residents Meet With FAA As City Considers New SMO Leases

July 13, 2015
In The News

A long-awaited meeting to discuss Santa Monica Airport was held Wednesday in Washington, D.C. between the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and local elected officials and residents.

Congressman Ted Lieu (33rd District) and Congresswoman Karen Bass (37th District) hosted the meeting between their constituents and senior FAA officials.

This meeting followed an invitation to meet, which was made at the March 24 Santa Monica City Council meeting.

Attendees at the meeting included Santa Monica Mayor Kevin McKeown, Santa Monica Mayor Pro Tempore Tony Vazquez, Santa Monica Councilmember Sue Himmelrich and 16 other 33rd District constituents who flew to Washington, D.C.

After the meeting, Congressman Lieu said the serious safety, environmental, and health concerns of the Santa Monica Airport date back for several decades.

“After a meeting with the FAA was announced, my office received over 1,000 comment forms from constituents citing the everyday risks they face as they go about their lives,” Lieu said. “Whether it is a mother concerned about her child suffering from lead exposure, a husband worried about his wife’s asthma, or families simply trying to sleep at night, the problems my constituents face on a daily basis are real and hazardous.”

Lieu said he was grateful to his constituents for flying all the way to Washington, D.C. to take part in the meeting.

“I thank the FAA for agreeing to listen to them,” Lieu said. “Today was a productive meeting where each attendee personally shared their story with the FAA face to face. I hope that the FAA will heed the concerns brought forth today and work to address the issues.”

Santa Monica Mayor Kevin McKeown said it is his primary responsibility to protect the health, safety, and welfare of the residents of Santa Monica.

“Santa Monica Airport endangers our residents and our resources,” McKeown said. “What was once a grass landing strip in the midst of bean fields is now often described as ‘an aircraft carrier in a sea of homes.’ The exceptionally close proximity of the runway and residents’ homes presents unacceptable safety risks.”

Back in Santa Monica, the City Council this coming Tuesday will discuss plans for new three-year leases for the airport, a sobering reality to those who thought SMO would close with the July 1 expiration of the 1984 agreement between the city and the FAA.

“Now I know many people had expectations that on July 1, 2015, that it would all change instantaneously,” McKeown said. “We’re working with the federal government. They move slowly.”

The city understandably wants to proceed with caution, considering they do not want to fight more battles in court that could, perhaps, extend an Airport agreement even further than is wanted.

There are currently two legal claims that are making the city proceed with caution. First, in recent years the FAA has claimed that the 1948 Instrument of Transfer obligates the city to use the parcel covered by that instrument as an Airport in perpetuity, according to city staff.

Second, aviation interests have claimed that the city’s federal grant obligation do not expire until 2023, requiring the city to continue to operate the entire Airport until 2023.

The city is currently litigating these claims in federal court and in an administrative proceeding before the FAA. It is uncertain when each will end and most likely neither will conclude for another two to three years, according to city staff.

Until these legal issues are resolved, it appears inevitable that the FAA and aviation interests will prevent the city from exercising any real control over the Airport, the kind of control that would allow for its removal.

Faced with this seemingly immovable object that is the FAA and the Airport, the city, as Airport owner and operator, in the weakest sense of the words, is continuing to operate the Airport lawfully.

To ensure that the Airport is self-supporting and not a drain on the City’s general fund while the City’s authority is being clarified, staff recommends the following leases with Airport tenants on terms listed below.

Consistent with the guidance City Council provided on March 24, 2015, all proposed leases would be at market rate. This will significantly enhance Airport revenues, assist in protecting the General Fund from subsidizing the Airport, and allow for continued repayment of the loans previously made to subsidize Airport operations, according to city staff.

This way it will ensure that Santa Monicans would not bear the costs of the Airport’s operation, which would certainly exacerbate the community’s already short patience with the Airport.

Here are the main points that staff recommends for the leases:

1) Ruskin Theater (3-year term at $3,595.27 per month).

2) Atlantic Aviation of Santa Monica (3-year term at $54,889.93 per month and 40 percent of the net rental revenue from subleasing).

3) Krueger Aviation Inc. (month-to-month at $4,920 per month and 50 percent of the net rental revenue from subleasing) (western parcel).

4) Gunnell Properties LLC (3-year term at $91,170.80 per month and 12 percent of gross revenue above the amount of the City’s base rent).

5) Ameriflyers of California dba American Flyers (month-to-month at $11,229.58 and 50 percent of the net rental revenue from subleasing) (western parcel).

6) Campclar Corporation dba Spitfire Grill (3-year term at $8,474.40 per month or 6 percent of gross receipts, whichever is greater).

7) Typhoon Restaurant Inc. (3-year term at $6,060.00 per month or 6 percent of gross receipts, whichever is greater).

8) Various month-to-month lease agreements for single space of either land or portions of buildings for artists, aviators and others.