By Dolores Quintana
The Santa Monica Airport reached its 100th anniversary in 2022 and the City of Santa Monica now has plans in the works to close the airport by 2028. The City Council officially approved the process of closing the airport at a meeting on January 24.
In the City’s press release, Mayor Gleam Davis said, “This is the beginning of a community process to reimagine the Airport site, which accounts for an unprecedented 4.3% of the City’s land. We know this is an asset Santa Monicans care about and we want to work together to set goals and priorities to meet diverse community needs for the next several generations.”
The city of Santa Monica has had continual legal disagreements with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) over control of airport operations and the use of the 227 acres of land that the airport currently stands on. The city has used the passage of local regulations since the 1970s to respond to the needs of local residents with the quality of life issues that the airport’s operations have raised. The desire of many residents and the city to close the airport has been part of the community discussion for roughly fifty years.
Several campaigns have been launched to rally support and affect the airport’s closure. The Santa Monica Mirror reported on two of those groups, Citizens Against Santa Monica Airport Traffic (CASMAT) and Sunset Park Anti-Airport, Inc., (SPAA), and their efforts in 2013. Their stated reasons for closing the airport were that the airport was, “too close to residential neighborhoods; recent airplane crashes; new homeowners in the area immediately surrounding SMO who do not care for the airport; the potential closure of 2,000 feet of the runway; and, a poll where 80 percent of respondents favored airport closure.”
The “consent decree” that was agreed upon in 2017 between the city and the FAA will return the land and its usage to the city of Santa Monica on December 31, 2028, and allow the city to close the airport. In a document from the office of the Santa Monica City Clerk, the agreement was explained and said, “After years of trying to assert local control over Airport activities and use of the Airport property, the City entered into a Settlement Agreement and “Consent Decree” with the United States of America and the Federal Aviation Administration that resolved all outstanding disputes between the parties and relinquished all claims by the U.S. and the FAA as to Airport land.”
The city will now be able to plan for the airport’s closure and intends to “invite community participation in designing what may be the greatest transformative event of this century for the City of Santa Monica, and perhaps the region.”
Measure LC which was passed in 2014, does give the City Council oversight over the use of the 227 acres of land that will be freed up by the airport’s closure. The City Council will be able to approve the development of parks, public open spaces, and public recreational facilities, and the maintenance and replacement of existing cultural, arts, and educational use on the land. New real estate development is prohibited on the land approved by the voters, with limits on potential developments.
In the meeting, the City Council “confirmed the values establish a standard for the Airport conversion process, foundational goals of sustainability and resiliency for the future of the Airport, and goals for an inclusive community space centered around the concept of a Great Park and supporting land uses.”
The process that the City Council has confirmed will start with a Request For Qualifications (RFQ) in early 2023 that will search for qualified firms or multi-disciplinary teams to help the City develop a public-facing process that will be able to get the community to participate in the planning and add their input. It “will allow staff to evaluate the merits of each firm or team against an established criterion, before requesting detailed proposals. A shortlist of qualified firms or teams will be established through this evaluation and shortlisted candidates will later be invited to submit detailed process and cost proposals for the project.”
The next step is a Request for Proposal (RFP) after the RFQ evaluation. The RFP will include “input from the community so that residents and other stakeholders have the opportunity to articulate their interests in how the planning process is shaped from inception.” City staff will meet with Santa Monica boards and commissions, neighborhood groups, the Chamber of Commerce, Santa Monica Travel and Tourism, and business-related interests such as merchants’ associations and local business improvement districts. This is intended to provide a “detailed expression of community interest, concerns, and other factors that are important to Santa Monicans.” for the RFP which will then be released to the public in late spring of 2023.
The city’s press release identifies a timeline for the process of the closure of the Santa Monica Airport:
- Consultant Selection: Summer 2023
- Project Initiation: Winter 2023
- Existing Conditions: Spring 2024
- Scenario Planning (Preferred Scenario Approved): Spring/Summer 2026
- Specific Plan Initiation: Fall/Winter 2026
- Consent Decree Airport Closure Authorization: Winter 2028
- Specific Plan Adoption: Fall 2028-2033 or beyond