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Santa Monicans for Renters’ Rights Says No to Airport Ballot Initiative

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By Jason Islas
Lookout reporter

April 17, 2014 -- Santa Monica’s powerful tenants’ rights group voted Saturday to oppose an effort that would put the future of the bayside city’s century-old airport on the ballot in November.

Leaders of Santa Monicans for Renters’ Rights (SMRR) voted to “discourage” residents from signing the ballot initiative put forward by supporters of the 227-acre Santa Monica Airport last month.

“The initiative is overly broad and could impede a number of City operations at the airport and we don’t want to tie up the City in that way,” said SMRR Co-Chair Patricia Hoffman.

If the supporters of the initiative collect the necessary 9,200 signatures to qualify the initiative for the November ballot and it is approved by voters, it could potentially require voters to approve any changes to the property, including the amount the City, which owns the land and operates the airport, charges tenants rent. (“Ballot Initiative to Preserve Santa Monica Airport Moves Forward,” April 8, 2014)

“This initiative is preemptive and could potentially stop the City from actually managing the airport,” Hoffman said.

Hoffman said that while SMRR will oppose the initiative, the organization will stop short of spending any money on the effort.

According to finance disclosure forms, SMRR’s most recent foray into local land use politics cost the group $900 in the form of paid signature gatherers when it backed an effort to overturn the City Council’s approval of the 765,000 square-foot Bergamot Transit Village. (“Santa Monica Referendum Gathers More than 13,000 Signatures,” March 12, 2014)

Supporters of the new initiative -- including the national Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) -- say that they oppose changes to the airport because they claim the City, which hopes to shut down at least part of the 5,000 foot runway as early as 2015, is working at the behest of land developers who want to build on the prime real estate.

Echoing opponents of the Hines project, supporters of the ballot initiative have argued that residents should have the right to vote on major land use issues like the future of Santa Monica Airport.

But it’s disingenuous, said former Mayor Mike Feinstein, who supported the Hines referendum but is opposed to the airport ballot initiative.

“This is really about preserving the status quo, not the public’s right to vote on any changes,” said Feinstein.

“Their hiding behind the rhetoric of democracy when they’re really trying to prevent any public planning process whatsoever,” he said.

If they were truly interested in the democratic process, Feinstein told the SMRR Steering Committee Saturday, proponents of the ballot initiative would wait to see what the planning process about future uses of the airport would turn up and then gather referendum signatures if they didn't like the result.

“There are people who believe a smaller, friendlier airport is possible,” Feinstein said, who himself is a member of Airport2Park. “This (ballot initiative) precludes even that.”

At its March 25 meeting, the Council voted to pursue a strategy that could lead to partial closure of the airport by 2015, when its 1984 settlement agreement with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) expires. As part of the vote, the Council also reiterated its commitment to keeping the land for low-density uses. (“City Council Moves Ahead with Plans to Close Santa Monica Airport,” March 27, 2014), a local coalition of anti-airport activists, celebrated SMRR’s decision to discourage people from signing “the aviation industry’s sham position,” the organization wrote in an official statement Wednesday.

Representatives of the group, which hopes to turn the airport land into a park, were on hand Saturday to advocate for SMRR’s support in fighting the ballot initiative.

Related Articles:

Ballot Initiative to Preserve Santa Monica Airport to Face Legal Challenge,” April 14, 2014

Santa Monica Keeps Options Open in Lawsuit against the FAA,” April 10, 2014

Supporters of Santa Monica Airport File Paperwork for Ballot Initiative,” March 28, 2014

New Poll on the Future of Santa Monica Airport Alarms Activists,” February 24, 2014

Judge Tosses Santa Monica Lawsuit Against FAA,” February 14, 2014

City Hall Sues FAA Over Future of Santa Monica Airport,” November 1, 2013

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