Community Campaign Gains Political Support After Jet Crash At Santa Monica Airport
After a deadly jet crash incident at Santa Monica Airport, community groups are gaining political support to reduce or end flights into the neighborhood area.
A small jet crash killed four people at Santa Monica Airport on Sept. 29. According to officials, the jet crashed into a storage hangar and started a fire at the airport after landing.
A coalition of local groups is hosting workshops for residents to envision the changes they’d like to see in the future of Santa Monica Airport. Airport2Park is a coalition of community groups and neighbors formed to promote the creation of a park on the land that is currently Santa Monica Airport. Members actively participate City and Airport commission meetings and coordinate closely with other community organizations in order to make sure their concerns are heard.
Although Airport2Park had been announced a month before the crash, the co-founder and head of Community Against Santa Monica Airport Traffic, John Fairweather, said it's worrying to think what might have happened if the jet had struck the house instead of a hangar.
There have been six incidents associated with Santa Monica Airport this year along with six fatalities. Thirty-six fatalities have resulted from Santa Monica airport traffic incidents since 2000.
The city of Santa Monica filed a lawsuit a month after the incident against the Federal Aviation Administration in federal court to establish the city’s right to control the future use of Santa Monica Airport property.
Sen. Ted W. Lieu represents the area. He held a hearing about the air pollution at Santa Monica Airport on Nov. 30. On the hearing, Lieu related to a personal story about his past experience walking in the neighborhood to explain why he is so passionate about the Santa Monica Airport.
“I felt grime on my skin and I was overwhelmed at times with fumes coming from the airport. Given the couple of hours I walked the neighborhood, I felt poisoned,” Lieu said. “It would stand to logic that the residents in the surrounding neighborhoods were in fact being poisoned every single day.”
The Communications Director of Lieu’s office, Ray Sotero, said the crash has raised residents’ awareness about the safety issues related to the airport.
“If nothing else, the recent crash raised public awareness about flight operations at Santa Monica airport. Many residents may not have been aware of the number and frequency of jet aircraft flights and are now better informed,” Sotero said.
Rep. Henry Waxman also issued a statement after the incident asking the FAA to take “immediate action to address safety conditions at Santa Monica Airport.” He has called for the FAA to sit down with the community and local government representatives to discuss the future of the airport.
Waxman wrote in a letter to FAA administrator Michael P. Huerta: “The fatal crash should be a wakeup call. You should thoroughly review the conditions at the airport, implement safeguards to protect the community, pilot, and passengers, and make the safety of the Santa Monica Airport an urgent priority.”
A resident who has lived in the Ocean Park area for 30 years, Frank J. Gruber, said the main concerns are noise and pollution issues. Gruber used to live in the 80s on Raymond Avenue and the Marine Street, but now he lives north of Ocean Park Boulevard. He was one of the residents who call the hotline frequently and complain about the plane noise.
As a major neighborhood activist and the author of “Urban Worrier: Making Politics Personal,” Gruber believes what community groups are doing is consistent with the desires expressed by the council members.
“It’s too early for the City itself to talk to residents about what they would like to see in a park, and even, to some degree, plan a park. But it’s not too early for community groups like Airport2Park to do it,” Gruber said.
The city of Santa Monica has tried and failed to restrict jet traffic over the years. But recently federal authorities have amended Title 14 of the Code of Federal Regulations to expand the area above and around Santa Monica Airport from a 4 to 4.6 mile northeast of the airport.
The regulated airspace surrounding Santa Monica Airport will expand on Dec. 12 to accommodate air traffic. Seven other actions are also in the works for the airport through July 2014, according to the FAA website.
In 2015, the airport’s lease will expire. As proprietor, the city of Santa Monica has the right to not renew the lease and to enforce land use restrictions.
According to CASMAT and Airport2Park, if the city were to close the airport in 2015 and rent the current buildings directly to non-aviation tenants, the land could be turned into one of the largest parks in Los Angeles.
Airport2Park continues to work with other groups and political entities to outreach and effect change at Santa Monica Airport furthering the goal of creating a park.