Let me bring you up to date on what happened at the Tuesday March 24 Council Meeting regarding the airport issue. While the broader public has not opined on the minutia of strategies and options, including leasing terms, regarding what to do at the airport, what they have stated most clearly, both at the ballot box last November, and in surveys by CASMAT and others, amounts to a simple mandate to City Council as follows: “Deal with the airport issue for us as quickly as possible, and when you are done, repurpose the land freed up for park and recreational use”. Measured by this mandate, Tuesday night’s marathon Council session was another big step forward for the community:
1) Council instructed staff to begin work on the new 21-acre park the community, and in particular the Santa Monica Airport2Park Foundation (www.airport2park.org), asked for (per Measure LC). They instructed staff to have the 6-acre playing fields portion done within 2-3 years, and the 6-acre parkland aspect as soon as practical, even if not in its final form. This kind of rapid progress is unheard of. This action takes away the “you can’t trust ‘em on LC” argument pilots have foisted on us since the start of the D/LC campaign. I believe it may also have a chilling effect on our opponents’ morale as they see their territory being visibly seized and repurposed faster than they could ever have imagined. This Council move is directly respondent to measure LC. In voting for LC so resoundingly the public said “we want a park!”, Tuesday night Council gave them one and fast tracked it. In voting against D so resoundingly the public said “deal with the airport for us”, Tuesday night the Council did everything they could to do so, given current legal uncertainty.
2) Council reaffirmed their ongoing commitment to the arts and cultural uses on the non-aviation land by explicitly isolating its treatment from other parcels and offering the longer leases that those tenants need. At the same time, they mandated that all aviation uses of non-aviation land should stop. This too aligns exactly with community wishes. Moreover, this takes away the “they are out to kill the arts meme” aviation advocates used consistently in their measure D misinformation, and more recently as a result of the month-to-month everywhere movement which might inadvertently have had this effect. This entire issue has now been put to bed.
3) Council moved leases on the Western parcel to month-to-month, going against staff recommendations and giving a clear signal to all, that parcel may be taken back soon. Soon in this case likely means when we get back the determination on the appeal of City’s 2013 declarative release suit to clarify the City’s rights to decide the future of its own land. This decision may come down as soon as 2016. In the meantime however, we have moved the ball forwards and irreversibly, meaning that any later ensuing litigation triggered freeze of the status quo won’t be as disastrous as if it happened now (which might have happened had Council moved clumsily).
4) Council gave leases on the 1948 parcel up to 3 years, but required they include a clause whereby should the airport facilities wholly or partially close, takers of those leases would have no recourse and their lease would end. This action will attract new non-aviation tenants into the airport to replace weaker aviation tenants that might chose to leave. It will be at least 3 years before the 48 parcel is resolved, so 3-year lease terms on this parcel is actually a non-issue. Going month-to-month on the 48 parcel simply encourages aviation tenants to stay on and likely aggravate the status quo, since we’d be unable to find more attractive low impact tenants to replace them. Council instructed staff to raise all leases on the Western and 48 parcels to market rate, to end all sub-leasing windfalls, and to explore utilizing a leasing agent and management company to directly handle all leases – all prudent moves.
5) Council created a multi-faceted approach which is entirely rational, justifiable, and will make a difficult if not impossible target for aviation lobby litigation, but which moves things in the direction the community wants. I’m sure that the aviation lobby was watching closely Tuesday night with intent to sue at any misstep, no doubt they’ve been working on this since they lost in November. I saw no misstep, and Council did not do any of the things the aviation lobby expected. Instead they did something else, taking back non-aviation land for LC-compliant parks (this is land the FAA gave up all rights to over 30 years ago), they gave longer leases where it would not make any difference (the 48 parcel), they took just the Western parcel month-to-month, and they took all aviation parcel rates to market rate while treating the non-aviation land (which contains virtually all the uses the public has said it ‘likes’ about the airport) separately. I believe this approach will get us all where we want to be much faster and safer than others they might have taken.
All in all, Council deftly crafted a resolution that modified staff’s proposals to give the community as much as is possible and prudent at this time, while sending strong and critically important messages of support for LC, arts and cultural uses, and for their firm intent to move this issue towards a final resolution that meets community needs. The only casualty in all this, as Kevin McKeown pointed out, may be Typhoon’s request for a 10 year lease, but this is unavoidable since Typhoon is on the 48 parcel and so can’t be treated differently from others on that parcel without triggering litigation.
Chair – Campaign for Local Control of Santa Monica Airport Land (CLCSMAL – www.ItsOurLand.org)
Founder – Community Against Santa Monica Airport Traffic (CASMAT – www.CASMAT.org)