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Santa Monica votes to close its airport, even though the FAA says it can't

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The back-up plan is to make the airport less appealing to private jet owners

The Santa Monica Airport has been around since the 1920s, and to hear some residents talk, it’s been causing all sorts of problems ever since. As early as 1967, a group of neighbors sued the city over airplane noise. Other residents say that emissions from aircraft have dirtied the air and caused health problems for those living close to runways.

Well, those problems might be coming to an end. At a meeting Tuesday night, the city council passed a dramatic resolution calling for the closure of the city’s airport by 2018. There’s just one problem: Last week the Federal Aviation Administration upheld a previous ruling that bars the airport from closing until 2023.

That, however, was not enough to deter city officials, who maintain that—based on an agreement reached with the FAA in 1984—the city’s commitment to operate the airport should have ended in 2015.

The plan adopted by the council includes several steps designed to make the airport a little less appealing to the aviation companies and private individuals who make use of it. These include shortening the western runway from 5,000 to 2,000 feet and establishing a city-run operator to fuel planes, provide maintenance, and handle other services. Right now, private companies handle this stuff, but, as the Los Angeles Times suggests, the city feels it's making the airport a little too appealing to the owners of private jets. A report from the city manager notes that jets accounted for more than 90 percent of noise violations.

Not surprisingly, noise was a common target of scorn during the meeting. "The noise is excruciating," said one resident during the public comment period. "It’s morning, noon, and night."

Also at issue was what many saw as the airport’s tendency to serve an exclusive clientele. In a press release, City Councilman Ted Winterer said, "our Council and community in solidarity, want to close the airport that predominantly caters to the 1% that can afford to travel by private jet.

Still, plenty of people came to the meeting to speak in support of the airport. One commenter presented a video to the council showing some good old fashioned family fun on the runway:

Another speaker warned that if the airport were closed, developers would swarm in, scooping up the open land and turning Santa Monica into something like "Miami Beach, the Jersey Shore, or Waikiki."

That’s not the plan. If successful in closing the airport, the city council wants to convert the land into a massive expansion to a four-acre park that is already getting a 12-acre addition at present.

But none of this matters unless the city can wrest full control of the airport away from the FAA, and that looks like it’s shaping up to be a messy legal fight. One public commenter at the meeting adopted a particularly aggressive tone. "I stand here tonight as a pilot and an attorney to promise litigation is a certainty," he said. "And that we’ll win."