SMC would lose little if SMO closes

  In Santa Monica, few places that affect its citizens the way the Santa Monica Airport does.  Whether it’s championed as a pioneer of aviation history and municipal economic powerhouse or lamented as a black hole of noise and air pollution, the airport is never far from the spotlight. Yet again the long time neighbor of Santa Monica College, is drawing attention as it faces potential closure in just a few years.

The future of the Santa Monica Airport will be known in 2015, where the Santa Monica City Council will decide on whether or not the airport should be closed.  The airport has strong support for and against closure, making this a tough call for the city.

Bruce Smith, Public Information Officer at the school, thinks that a closure is “pretty unlikely.” Smith said that the only part of SMC that could be affected by the possible closure would be the Airport Arts campus, a facility opened in 1989 to house art and ceramic studios. The leased building’s fate would be decided if the closure also shuttered the non-aviation related businesses, an improbable outcome according to Smith.

Neighboring Bundy campus would not be affected by the closure since it is located in Los Angeles. The school is expected to expand the campus in the next 10 years, according to the college. However, expansion would occur near the already constructed building and would not impact land currently in use by the airport.

Those in favor of closing SMO, which is located directly north of Santa Monica College’s Bundy campus, are many who live in the residential areas surrounding the airport. They would like to see aviation operations reduced, mitigated, or eliminated completely.

Janet Brown, a resident of the Ocean Park neighborhood since 1996, spoke of how since she arrived, her problems with the airport have only gotten worse.

“It was quiet back then, just a quiet slow little plane every once in a while,” she said. “Now it is a free-for-all. It has become unbearable.”

Apart from noise pollution, one of the other major concerns is jet fuel emission and its potential effects on the environment, expressed by  Francisco Gonzalez, a resident who also lives nearby.

“When they just sit on the tarmac for 20 minutes, the smell of burning jet fuel reaches all the way to my place almost 10 blocks away,” he explained.  A father of two children, Gonzalez fears this exposure could be affecting his family and the community’s well being.

Robert Trimborn, SMO airport director, spoke about current airport policies on a tour of the SMO campus this weekend.

“Today, we have one of the most stringent noise programs in the nation,” said Trimborn adding that the reason for this is due to the high volume of air traffic.  “The airport itself consists of corporate jets and independently owned planes.   An average of 250 flights depart and arrive daily, and the yearly average is close to 100,000 flights,” added Trimborn.

For some, the goal in 2015 is to see these numbers decrease drastically.

On the other hand, supporters of SMO feel that while the airport presents some issues, they should be overlooked because of the many benefits it offers.

Captain Harry C. Sax, a Civil Air Patrol pilot, has been flying for over 20 years and currently flies at SMO.

“If there’s any kind of natural disaster in LA, search and rescue is based here.  In the event of an earthquake, this airport is the way we’re going to get supplies out there,” Sax explained.  “A lot of young, aspiring aerospace engineers are also being taught here so a teaching component will be missing if it closes.”

The fiscal impact of the airport is significant in the city.  According to an economic study of the airport from last year, by Martin Pastucha, Santa Monica Public Works Director, “the Airport supports 1,487 total full-time and part-time jobs in the City, of which 894 are located directly at the Airport Campus.”  This gives a sense of how many jobs could potentially be affected by the city’s decision on the matter.

This isn’t the first time Santa Monica Airport has been confronted by the public.  In fact, these very same issues were addressed and resolved nearly 30 years ago.

In 1984, an agreement was reached in order to limit noise levels, reduce the number of active aircrafts, and set a curfew for all flights from SMO.  The agreement also ensured that the airport would be able to operate through the year 2015, after which the city would be allowed to close SMO or decide on another alternative.

There is no plan yet on what could potentially become of the 227? Seems small acre lot that is SMO. “We are currently presenting an airport commission plan to the city,” said Stelios Makrides, Airport Operations Administrator.  Known as the Airport Sustainability Plan, it details reducing airport emissions, further restricting noise levels, and ultimately aiming to make SMO a more environmentally sustainable airport.

The fate of the airport ultimately rests in the hands of the city council, which will elect new members this fall.