City Council Meeting: April 30, 2013
Agenda Item: 8-A
To: Mayor and City Council
From: Martin Pastucha, Director of Public Works
Marsha Jones Moutrie, City Attorney
Subject: Santa Monica Airport Campus Phase III Findings, Landing Fee Study and the Future of Santa Monica Airport Operations
Staff recommends that the City Council:
a) Continue to identify and analyze the possibilities for current and future actions to reduce Airport noise, air pollution and safety risks through Airport reconfiguration, revised leasing policies, voluntary agreements, mandatory restrictions, and all other means; and
b) Continue to assess the potential risks and benefits of closing or attempting to close all or a portion of the Airport; and
c) Return to Council, by March of 2014, with an assessment of both so that Council can determine whether the City should, after the expiration of its current obligations, implement additional changes that will reduce adverse Airport impacts and enhance the Airport's benefit to the community or whether the City should undertake closure of all or part of the Airport.
The City owns the Airport and operates it in conformity with The Santa Monica Airport Agreement (the "1984 Agreement") with the federal government, various federal grant conditions, and other legal requirements and constraints, including private leases. However, the requirements and constraints will change in 2015 with the expiration of the 1984 agreement and the Airport leases. The extent of the control that the City will regain in 2015 is disputed. Nonetheless, in order to allow sufficient time to explore all options, the City instituted a three-part Airport Visioning Process to explore the range of options for the Airport's future that lie between the extremes of maintaining the status quo and attempting to close the Airport. At the conclusion of Phase II, Council directed staff to ensure transparency and ample opportunity for public input, prepare a more detailed assessment of possibilities for "greening" the Airport, evaluate the potential for making the Airport a better neighbor and community member, evaluate design improvements for non-aviation land, and continue its dialogue with FAA representatives. Staff has carried out those directives, and Phase III has been completed. This report summarizes the results of that effort and also includes contextual information, additional data gathered by staff, input from the Airport Commission and the community, and discussion of the options. Staff seeks guidance from Council on additional staff work that will assist Council in making its ultimate decisions about the Airport's future.
Whatever the best option may be after 2015, it is clear that the City is bound by the 1984 Agreement and long-term leases until then. So, time remains for further exploration of possibilities for diminishing adverse Airport impacts and enhancing Airport benefits to the community. Accordingly, based upon the information conveyed by this report and the fact that the City cannot significantly change Airport operations at present, staff recommends that Council provide direction to pursue opportunities for significantly mitigating Airport impacts through various means and report back so that Council may consider whether the potential for diminishing adverse Airport impacts and enhancing Airport benefits warrants planning to keep the Airport open or whether the City should endeavor to close the Airport after the expiration of the 1984 Agreement and grant conditions. Additionally, staff recommends that Council approve the proposed landing fee program in order to better cover and more equitably distribute Airport costs. Finally, staff recommends approving a pilot program to facilitate the installation of muffler and other noise-mitigation equipment on aircraft used in flight training in order to reduce noise impacts on Airport neighbors.
The Airport and Its History
The Airport's circumstances and its history provide context for considering its future. SMO is one of the oldest and busiest single-runway, general aviation airports in the country. It is located on 227 acres of prime land, bordered on three sides by single-family residential neighborhoods, two of which are in the City of Los Angeles. Today's Airport campus, which is shown on Attachment A, consists of 187 acres of land legally designated and used for aviation activities and 40 acres that are used for other purposes not inconsistent with airport activities, such as park space, educational facilities and art studios. The Airport has a single runway, oriented roughly east-west, with takeoffs occurring westward over Sunset Park and toward the ocean during prevailing wind patterns. Last year, there were 102,675 total operations of which 12,414 were jet operations.
The Airport has played a major role in the histories of the City and modern aviation. Attachment B summarizes the Airport's history. It was acquired by the City in 1926, when the surrounding area was mostly farmland; and the City has continuously owned and operated it ever since, except during World War II, when it was leased to and operated by the federal government. Before, during, and for a brief period after the war, the Airport was home to the Douglas Aircraft Company. It was, by far, the largest employer in the City; and Sunset Park was developed largely to house its enormous workforce.
Prior to World War II, the Airport was smaller than it is today; and the layout included two runways configured in an "X". During World War II, the federal government enlarged and reconfigured the Airport, creating the current runway and taxiway configuration. After the war, the federal government transferred the Airport back to the City in two conveyances undertaken separately, each with its own transfer document. One of the documents, the Instrument of Transfer, contains language purporting to limit the parcel to airport use in perpetuity. The other document is a Quit Claim Deed, which purports to convey a fee title to the City and contains no such limitations. Attachment C shows the two parcels.
The Post War Years and the Emergence of Conflict
In the years that followed, Douglas reduced its workforce and later left the Airport; and the fleet mix at the Airport changed with the development and proliferation of jet aircraft. These changes sparked substantial conflicts between the Airport and the residential neighborhoods that had grown up immediately adjacent to the Airport and its runway ends.
Attachment D is a photograph showing the proximity of the Airport to these neighborhoods. The City responded to the conflict by adopting local regulations restricting operations to protect neighbors' quality of life by imposing: a night curfew; bans on touch-and-go, stop-and-go, and low approach operations; a prohibition against helicopter flight training; a noise limit; and a jet ban. The aviation community and the federal government challenged the regulations. Litigation ensued, most notably Santa Monica Airport Assoc. v. City, 659 F.2d 100 (1981), in which a coalition of Airport users challenged City ordinances. The federal trial court upheld all of the ordinances except the jet ban, which was invalidated on constitutional grounds; and the federal appellate court affirmed.
Legal and political conflicts over the Airport continued, waxing and waning for almost fifty years. The disputes have included lawsuits and other proceedings against the City initiated by Airport neighbors, members of the aviation community and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). Overall, there have been seven appellate court decisions about operations at the Airport rendered in the last 45 years, and many more cases and administrative proceedings. Attachment E lists the appellate decisions about the Airport.
There was, however, one period of relative quietude in the post-war history of the Airport. In 1984, the City resolved its then-current differences with the FAA through adoption of the 1984 Agreement, which minimized conflict for almost 20 years. Among other things, the Agreement requires the City to operate the Airport until 2015, establishes operational restrictions, and imposes certain requirements about the mix of facilities and businesses at the Airport. More recently, controversy re-ignited, with neighbors, the aviation community and the federal government all asserting claims against the City in the last 10-15 years.
Changes in Law & Recent Disputes
Following the adoption of the 1984 Agreement, changes occurred in federal law. Most significantly, the courts established that airport proprietors are not federally preempted from regulating airport noise in order to protect residents' health and welfare. This doctrine is referred to as the airport proprietor's exception to federal preemption, and it protects local airport proprietors' authority to protect their communities by regulating airport operations. However, in 1990, Congress responded to the court decisions by adopting the Airport Noise and Capacity Act (ANCA). Basically, it limits local control of noise by requiring local entities to undertake a specified process and meet very stringent standards to justify local noise restrictions. To staff's knowledge, no local entity has successfully utilized the ANCA process to strengthen noise regulations. Fortunately, regulations that predate ANCA, like Santa Monica's, are grand-parented; and Santa Monica's have been incorporated into the Municipal Code.
In the last ten years, the City fought a protracted legal battle with the federal government, after the FAA challenged the City's proposed Aircraft Conformance Program. The program would have implemented federal runway safety standards for the design of new airports by effectively shortening the length of the Airport's runway so that runway safety improvements could be installed to protect homes and neighborhoods from aircraft overruns. The runway safety program entailed prohibiting Category C and D aircraft, which have high approach speeds, from using the Airport.
After repeatedly attempting to negotiate a runway safety solution with the FAA, the City Council ultimately adopted an ordinance prohibiting C and D aircraft from using the Airport in order to promote safety. In response, the FAA immediately sought and obtained injunctive relief in federal court. United States v. City of Santa Monica, 330 Fed. Appx. 124 (9th Cir. May 8, 2009) (Unpublished). Basically, throughout the litigation, the City contended that it has the right to protect Airport neighbors by implementing current federal runway safety area design standards for new airports.
The federal government argued, among other things, that the Airport is safe, that the ban on C and D aircraft violated federal grant assurances, and that the assurances do not expire until 2023. The controversy was long, costly and hard-fought. The City hired a team including outside counsel and experts; staff worked with them. Over the course of nine years, the case made its way through a lengthy administrative process, a federal trial court and two federal appellate courts. Ultimately, in 2011, the FAA prevailed on the narrow ground that the program violated the grant assurance prohibiting unjust discrimination. City v. FAA, 631 F.3d 550 (DC Cir. 2011).
While the City was battling the FAA on the Aircraft Conformance Program and C and D ban, an aviation industry organization, the National Business Aviation Association (NBAA), filed an administrative complaint with the FAA, alleging that the City's landing fee program violated grant assurances, the 1984 Agreement and the post-war Instrument of Transfer. In early 2004, the FAA issued a 55-page Director's Determination invalidating the City's landing fee program and concluding that the fee structure disproportionately and unreasonably allocated airfield costs to a very small group of users who operated heavier aircraft. In 2005, with the runway safety/jet ban fight ongoing, the City opted to resolve the landing fee dispute by submitting a corrective action plan, which called for adoption of the current fee program. It sets the landing fee at $2.07 per 1,000 pounds of maximum certified gross landing weight and exempts based aircraft.
The Visioning Process and Completion of Phase III
Since the litigation against the FAA ended, City staff has focused on assessing opportunities that will arise with the expiration of the 1984 Agreement, the federal grant conditions, and the Airport leases. The Airport Visioning Process was formulated to identify and assess options between the extremes of maintaining the Airport status quo (which many Airport neighbors perceive as completely unacceptable because of the
Airport's adverse impacts on them and their property) and closing the Airport (which would entail a long and costly legal battle of uncertain outcome). The process has also served to make a record supporting the Council's ultimate choice.
On December 14, 2010, Council authorized a professional services agreement with The RAND Corporation to study best practices and uses that might be compatibly and beneficially located at the Airport. Council also authorized a contract with Point C Partners to formulate and undertake a preliminary community interview process regarding the range of possibilities for the Airport's future.
On February 22, 2011, Council directed staff to proceed with Phase I of a comprehensive, three-phased Airport visioning process. Council also approved a contract with HR&A Advisors Inc. to analyze general economic and fiscal impacts of current Airport operations and activities. On October 4, 2011, staff reported to Council on Phase I, and Council directed to proceed with Phase II.
On December 6, 2011, Council approved the Phase II professional services contract with Moore Icafano Goltsman, Inc. (MIG) to facilitate thirty community discussion groups and provide both a report and raw data to the City. The discussion groups, which began in January of 2012, provided a forum for community members and all other interested persons to share their views about the Airport and its future. Over 300 community members and others participated, making this the largest, in depth public process ever undertaken by the City.
On May 8, 2012, MIG's report was presented to Council. The report includes the demographics of the participants (most community members who participated lived near the Airport) and lists their positive and negative comments about the Airport.
The positive comments included that the Airport:
The negative comments, which were much more numerous, were about:
· Noise pollution, particularly from jets and flight school operations;
· Perceived health impacts of aircraft emissions;
· Safety risks related to flight training and the proximity of homes and a gas station to the runway ends;
· Perceived growth in Airport operations;
· Damage to residents' life quality and property values without equal benefits;
· Environmental impacts inconsistent with City policies and values; and
· Lack of local control and corresponding feelings of disenfranchisement.
The MIG report distills the community input into three general positions between the extremes of maintaining the status quo and fighting to close the Airport:
(1) Close the Airport unless a firm agreement is made with the FAA that guarantees operational changes sufficient to significantly mitigate adverse Airport impacts on surrounding neighborhoods; and
(2) Keep the Airport only if operations and the Airport "footprint" are significantly reduced because the Airport has outgrown its residential setting; and
(3) Preserve the Airport as a potential asset if the City can implement various mitigation measures sufficient to reduce impacts because the results of litigation are uncertain, subsequent repurposing of the Airport land would likely include development that would greatly exacerbate traffic problems, and closure might allow flights incoming to LAX to overfly Santa Monica at lower altitudes.
After considering the MIG report, hearing public testimony, and assessing steps the City was taking or might take to address community concerns about adverse Airport impacts, Council directed staff to proceed with Phase III. On August 14, 2012, Council approved a professional services agreement with IBI Group to prepare enhancement concepts for the Airport non-aviation land.
Council's directions to staff for Phase III, included: continuing the community dialogue on the Airport's future and providing more information to the community; assessing possibilities for transforming SMO into a model "Green" airport; evaluating the potential for making SMO a better neighbor by identifying best practices at other airports; conducting a fee study; trying to reduce flight school operations by moving some to other airports; and making physical improvements to the Airport; evaluating possible design improvements for non-aviation land; continuing communications with the FAA about the Airport's adverse impacts and its future; and continuing to monitor information relating to emission impacts and to assess the City's right to close the Airport.
Much of this work is completed, and the remainder is ongoing. As to continuing the community dialogue, two community workshops were conducted at Airport Commission meetings on November 26, 2012 and April 1, 2013. At the first, sixteen members of the public spoke. Generally, they supported small-scale, incremental enhancements to the non-aviation Airport land. And, both the public and Commission requested that the Phase III work be expanded to include future possibilities for the aviation land, including the elimination of flight schools, leaded fuel sales and all aviation activities on the quit-claimed parcel; and reduction in the number of FBO's and tie-downs. Staff explained that these proposals were outside the scope of the consultant's work. At the second workshop, the public input included: complaints from the aviation community about both the legality and potential impacts of the proposed landing fee program; and questions about how to reconcile the HR&A report on the economic impacts of the Airport (which notes that the Airport has positive impacts on the local economy) with the landing fee study (which notes that the current fee structure does not cover costs of operating the Airport). In addition to the two workshops, staff publicly presented information at Commission meetings throughout the year, including information about flight operations, operational restrictions at other airports and muffler testing. Additionally, information was shared on both the Airport website and the Airport Visioning website, which will be maintained through the end of this year.
As to the potential for "greening" the Airport, Airport staff worked with the Office of Sustainability and the Environment (OSE) to update the Airport's sustainability plan and complete energy and water audits. Additionally, staff has completed some water-conservation improvements and has identified three other small projects: reducing operational hours for the HVAC system, installing heat pump economizers and installing return air programmable thermostats. This effort will result in the Airport Administrative Office earning its Green Office Certification by June 2013 and serving as the pilot for the City's Green Office program. Additionally, IBI analyzed the prospects for a sustainable transportation incubator. Staff also continued to monitor possibilities for emission reduction and to facilitate and support efforts to assess health impacts of aircraft emissions. Those efforts are ongoing. The Airport Cooperative Research Program, which is studying lead emissions at four airports, will conduct its research at SMO in July. The City is also partnering with the University of Kansas to seek funding for a research center dedicated to studying green aviation technology.
As to making the Airport a better community contributor, staff implemented Council's direction to study landing fees by hiring WJ Advisors to conduct a study and make recommendations. That work is completed and is summarized below.
As to making the Airport a better neighbor by reducing flight school operations, staff studied relocating operations to other airports through a financial incentive program. This possibility was ultimately abandoned based on strong opposition from community members and other cities. Staff also identified possible changes to the configuration of leaseholds that would reduce adverse impacts. Additionally, staff surveyed operations and noise restrictions at 43 comparable airports located throughout the United States. Attachment F is a chart showing the results. As to all 43 airports, staff's research included an interview with each airport's noise management staff and a review of each noise management program as described in a data base developed by The Boeing Company, which is updated annually. Of the 43 airports surveyed, 27 have some mandatory aircraft operational restrictions. These restrictions include limits on: maximum allowable noise levels, departure and arrival times (curfews), maintenance run-up, pattern flying, auxiliary power units, and night operations; but each airport has different restrictions.
In addition to outright restrictions, many of the 43 airports also have voluntary programs intended to reduce neighborhood impacts. These programs include, among other things, recommended noise limits, voluntary curfews, recommendations on maintenance run-up hours, and requests regarding pattern flying. Generally speaking, it is difficult to compare the effectiveness of these programs because the restrictions vary significantly. For instance, most airports that have noise restrictions measure and limit the real-time noise level. However, other airports enforce a maximum allowable noise level based upon FAA certified and published noise levels for specific aircraft. If an aircraft exceeds the FAA "certified" noise level, that aircraft is not permitted to operate at the airport.
Staff also continued its intermittent discussions with FAA personnel on possibilities for reducing adverse impacts of Airport operations sufficiently to make voluntary resolution of Airport issues a viable alternative to a legal battle over Airport closure. The FAA
representatives expressed their strong commitment to their central mission of keeping airports open in order to maintain a robust national air transportation system. However, they also indicated their willingness to consider changes to the Airport within the restrictive parameters of federal law. Additionally, staff met with representatives of the national aviation associations who have conveyed their concerns about maintaining the Airport and Airport access. And, of course, legal staff continued its assessment of the City's legal rights and work on the City's legal arguments.
Other Information And Views Obtained During The Last Year
The Airport Commission's Recommendations
During the Phase III period, the Airport Commission has provided significant input, including four sets of written recommendations to the City Council. The Commission's recommendations include, but are not limited to:
In addition to making written recommendations, the Commission also shared its views with the community and staff at the two, Phase III workshops. Among other things, the Commission asked if staff could expand the Phase III study to include: the elimination of aviation use of the parcel quitclaimed to the City after World War II; the elimination of flight schools, reducing the number of tie down spaces and FBO's and eliminating the sale of leaded aviation fuel -- after the expiration of the 1984 Agreement.
Staff's Collection of Data On Mufflers and Patterned Operations
While the consultant studied possible improvements to the non-aviation land, staff focused on operations, undertaking various projects intended to gather data and information to inform Council's consideration of the Airport's future. In addition to the information about operational restrictions at other airports, staff also surveyed landing fee programs at other airports. This information showed that most general aviation airports charge no landing fees, most that do exempt based aircraft, and some charge landing fees to all aircraft, including based tenants.
Additionally, in order to identify and evaluate all possible options for addressing neighbors' concerns about noise, staff took two actions. First, staff asked the City's noise consultant to evaluate the Airport's noise contours in order to determine whether the City could make the showing required by ANCA to lower noise limits. (The conclusion was that it could not.) Second, in December 2012, staff conducted a noise- level flight-test program to determine the effectiveness of an aftermarket exhaust muffler system in reducing the noise level of the most common flight training aircraft used at the Airport.
The test was conducted on two days, using a single-engine Cessna 172 and a Low Noise Engine Exhaust Silencer Kit System, which the FAA has approved for use on the Cessna 172. On December 6, 2012, staff measured the aircraft's noise level with the factory-installed muffler system. Eleven days later, staff measured the same aircraft's
noise level with the after-market exhaust muffler system installed. Weather conditions were practically identical on the two days, the plane flew identical maneuvers, and noise measurements were taken from all six of the Airport's remote noise monitoring sites on both days. During analysis of the data, staff opted to use the noise measurements from remote monitoring stations (RMS) #1 and #4 because the data collected from these sites, which are 1500 feet and 4000 feet from the western runway end respectively, was most distinct. (As to other sites, it was somewhat difficult to distinguish between aircraft noise and background noise.) Sunset Park residents observed on both test days.
The results indicated that the muffler system reduced noise levels. The Single Event Noise Exposure Level was reduced at Site #1 between 4.8 and 8.3 decibels and at Site #4 between 3.5 and 5 decibels. And, the duration of the noise event was reduced by two to six seconds at RMS #1 and by four to nine seconds at RMS #4. Sunset Park residents reported perceiving that noise was reduced when the aircraft approached and that the noise dropped off significantly when it passed by. Staff's observations were the same: the aftermarket muffler decreased noise from approaching aircraft and caused the noise level to drop off dramatically when the aircraft passed.
The graph below depicts sound measurements taken during the test at RMS #1, which is located approximately 1,500 feet from the runway's west end. Attachment G shows the location of all six monitoring stations.
Staff also continued its ongoing monitoring of Airport operation statistics. Last year's operations were the lowest of the last ten years, with an annual total of 102,675 of which 12,414 (12%) were jet operations. The graphs below depict operational trends for the last ten years.
In the past, residents have questioned both the FAA's and the City's statistics, particularly with regard to the percentage of total operations consisting of patterned operations. To address this dispute and attempt to resolve conflicting views, staff conducted a detailed count and analysis of aircraft operations. This project was undertaken during a two week period beginning September 10, 2012. Staff and student interns visually observed and recorded all aircraft operations that occurred during non-curfew hours (7a.m.11p.m. on weekdays and 8a.m.11p.m. on weekends.) Additionally, staff recorded operations during curfew hours utilizing the Airport's noise and operations monitoring system. After gathering data, staff verified it by correlating the observed aircraft operations with Air Traffic Control radio recordings.
The results were as follows:
Type Operations Percentage of Operations
Propeller Aircraft 2,816 81%
Jet Aircraft 517 15
Helicopter 144 4
TOTAL 3,477 100%
Data on patterned flying was also collected during this period. Staff found that there were 918 total patterned operations, which equates to 26% of all operations and 33% of piston aircraft operations. Staff also analyzed the percentage of operations attributable to flight schools. The data showed that 41% of total operations and 81% of patterned operations are attributable to flight schools. These pie charts illustrate the results.
Attachment H provides additional information on operations.
Also, during the Phase III period, consultants conducted the City-wide, bi-annual Resident Satisfaction Survey. In response to an open-ended question about residents' main concerns, only one percent of those surveyed stated that Airport noise was a concern. This is similar to the results in 2009 and considerably lower than in 2011, when 10% listed it as a concern, perhaps because that was the first survey after the FAA tested the 250 degree heading, which routed departing aircraft. The survey data suggests that Airport impacts are not a significant concern City-wide. Survey respondents ranked them as number 17 out of 20 possible concerns.
During Phase III, staff communicated with the local aviation community on many occasions and on a variety of issues. And, staff has also had contact with representatives of the national aviation associations who contacted staff to convey their strong interest in the future of the Airport. Representatives of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) and the NBAA have both conveyed their interest and concerns to City management. Additionally, senior staff met with FAA representatives, both in Washington and locally. They have expressed their strong commitment to their central mission of keeping airports open and available to the public for aviation use. However, they have also indicated their willingness to work with the City on changes to the Airport within the restrictive parameters of federal law.
Staff has also continued to monitor trends and changes in the aviation industry. Most notably, business jets have become more fuel efficient and quieter, which is the trend locally and nation-wide. And, the government and the aviation industry have begun working diligently to develop viable bio-jet fuel and unleaded gasoline. In July of 2011, the federal government approved bio-jet fuels for commercial aviation use. Also, there have been significant navigation improvements with the development of GPS technology which will, in the future, be utilized to define flight tracks more precisely and efficiently. Indeed, the FAA is working on its Metroplex program, which will reconfigure the airspace over the Los Angeles region. Exactly when and how this development will impact SMO remains unknown. Likewise, the local impact of the federal government's current plan to close airport towers is unknown; and that plan, which is currently the subject of multiple lawsuits, may change.
The Airport controversy reflects changing circumstances and disparate goals. The Airport was first built in an agricultural field; today, 90 years later, it is surrounded by
dense residential neighborhoods on three sides; and its runway ends are less than 300 feet from homes. Residents want to live in quiet, safe, and healthy neighborhoods; the aviation community wants to continue its historic use of the Airport. The City's mission is to protect and promote the health, safety and welfare of its residents; the FAA's is to protect and promote the national air transportation system.
The City's challenge in achieving successful resolution of these conflicts is exacerbated by the legal realities. The City owns, operates and is responsible for the Airport. But, aviation activities are governed by federal law, which predominates pursuant to the supremacy clause of the Constitution. And, federal aviation law is interpreted and administered by the FAA. Moreover, the City, as owner of the Airport, has proprietary rights; but their exact scope is subject to judicial interpretation, and the federal court decisions vary across the circuits.
For decades, the City's ability to protect residents and their quality of life against adverse Airport impacts has been severely constrained by legal and contractual limitations, including those arising from the 1984 Agreement and grant conditions. However, the Agreement and grant conditions will expire relatively soon the Agreement in 2015 and the grant conditions in either 2015 or 2023. Their expiration will bring new opportunities, and the community debate about which opportunities to pursue has intensified as the expiration dates approach. This section discusses present and future opportunities.
Modifying Landing Fees
As noted by both Council and the Airport Commission, one important opportunity is modification of the landing fee program. While the HR&A study showed that the Airport contributes to the local economy, its impacts upon the City budget are negative. For many years, the City's General Fund has subsidized Airport operations; but, demands upon the General Fund have increased. And, current fiscal realities, including the end
of redevelopment, dictate that all City enterprises, including the Airport, must become self-supporting. Additionally, City residents living near the Airport have expressed growing opposition to "subsidizing" Airport operations with General Fund dollars.
Landing fees are an important mechanism for insuring that airfield operations are as self-sustaining as possible and that the cost of maintaining and operating the Airport is born principally by those who use and profit from it. Accordingly, Council directed staff to study landing fees and propose any changes warranted by the study, including increasing the fees and eliminating the exemption for based aircraft. A copy of the landing fee study is attached to the brief, separate report covering the fee resolution.
The fee study's basic methodology included examining Airport revenues and expenditures to separate aviation from nonaviation-related activities and calculating the annual gross landed weight for all Aircraft using the Airport. The results showed that recovering all of the City's costs of maintaining and operating the Airport's public-use aviation facilities would require that the landing fee be increased from the current rate of $2.07 to $5.48 per thousand pounds of certificated maximum gross landing weight and that the fee be made applicable to all aircraft, including those based at the Airport. These changes would provide sufficient revenues to maintain the public-use runways, taxiways, taxi lanes, ramps, and grounds, which comprise the public-use aviation facilities. Thus, based on the fee study, staff recommends that Council adopt the attached resolution revising the landing fee program to help ensure that, to the extent possible, the cost of maintaining the public- use aviation facilities at the Airport is borne by the users of those facilities. Staff also recommends eliminating the landing fee exemption for the 370 aircraft currently based at the Airport. This would ensure that the operators of those aircraft pay their fair share of maintenance costs and operations based on their actual use of the facilities.
In addition to the fee study, staff's recommendation is also based on its research into practices at other general aviation airports serving urban areas. This research showed that most general aviation airports do not charge landing fees at all (because they want to encourage usage) or do not charge them to based aircraft (because the owners pay rent). But a number of general aviation airports do charge landing fees to based aircraft. Specifically, staff identified at least seven other urban, general aviation airports that charge landing fees to based aircraft: Imperial County Airport (California), Teterboro Airport (New Jersey), Adirondack Regional Airport (New York), Montauk Airport (New York), New Castle Airport (Delaware), Republic Airport (New York) and Willow Run Airport (Michigan). And, charging landing fees to based aircraft is becoming more common as airport owners begin funding control towers and as technology facilitates fee collection.
Staff gave presentations of the fee proposal to the aviation community both before and after the Airport Commission meeting of April 1st. Members of the aviation committee opposed both the proposed increase in fees and the proposed elimination of the exemption for based aircraft. They expressed concern about adverse impacts upon Airport businesses (particularly flight schools) and upon nonprofits that utilize the Airport for humanitarian purposes, such as Angel Flight. And, aviation community members indicated that they may file legal challenges to the proposed fee program. At this time, the impact of the proposed fee increases upon Airport businesses is uncertain. As to a legal challenge, staff believes that the fee would be upheld but will continue to monitor and assess any specific legal issues raised by opponents of the proposed fee.
In order to enforce the proposed landing fee program, the City would need to purchase and install new camera equipment to record landings attributable to patterned operations. Therefore, staff recommends an effective date of August 1, 2013 for the proposed landing fee program. This delay will also give the City and Airport businesses time to plan for the change.
Improvements to Public Spaces and Potential Uses of Non-Aviation Land
While most of the community debate about the Airport's future has focused on aviation operations, many participants in the visioning process complained that the Airport does
not afford benefits commensurate with its adverse impacts. They noted that the Airport's non-aviation facilities, with the exception of the park, are not consistent with the City's general standards for the quality of public streets and public spaces. Thus, Council directed that Phase III of the visioning process should include exploration of changes to the infrastructure and uses of the non-aviation land which would bring the Airport up to City standards and enhance its benefit to the community.
IBI studied these issues and formulated recommendations responsive to community concerns and the Council's direction. In general, IBI recommends: limiting development of non-aviation lands to protect quality of life and prevent increased traffic; expanding recreational and educational uses and facilities; upgrading infrastructure, grounds and facilities to improve aesthetics and meet City standards; and improving pedestrian and bike facilities and mass transit connections. IBI's work and specific recommendations fall into four categories: access and parking; uses, alignment and design; facilities design and engineering; and incubator feasibility. For each category, IBI has divided the possibilities into those that could be implemented before and after 2015.
Access and Parking
IBI evaluated public streets, sidewalks and parking at the Airport, focusing on potential multi-modal improvements to Airport Avenue. IBI concluded that, prior to 2015, the City could make street repairs, meet ADA standards, improve walkability and bike friendliness, encourage use of multimodal access, and resurface and restripe parking areas. After 2015, the City could improve the intersection at 23rd St. and Walgrove Avenue, and could significantly enhance Airport Avenue through streetscape improvements including tree planting, sidewalk widening, and installation of traffic-calming devices, construct a bike path, and install street furniture, among other enhancements. Additionally, the IBI suggested that the City could create activity spots for community use in underutilized spaces, including parking areas.
IBI also analyzed the current uses of the non-aviation land and developed scenarios for a future mix of recreational, entertainment and commercial uses consistent with the community priorities expressed in Phase II, which include enhancing recreational space and facilities, providing light community-serving retail, and protecting and possibly expanding uses related to arts and education. Four scenarios were identified: (1) a baseline scenario of maintaining current buildings and uses with adequate maintenance; (2) retrofitting current buildings to increase the quality of the building environment and maximize rents, perhaps with a change in the tenant mix; (3) maintaining the existing built environment and uses and focusing on converting underutilized land into recreational open spaces; and (4) maintaining current building and uses and complimenting them with key community-oriented enhancements such as pocket parks and community activity spots, and with small in-fill buildings. IBI recommended the fourth approach as the most strategic and noted that, before 2015, implementation could be studied, improvements could be made to Airport Avenue, and more events could occur at the Airport. After 2015 and if the City decides to maintain and modify the Airport, this strategic approach could be applied to aviation land through formulation of an Airport facilities improvement plan. However, implementation would be contingent on the availability of funding.
Facilities Design and Engineering
IBI also studied the condition of existing facilities and infrastructure to assess opportunities and limitations. IBI concluded that before 2015, the City could: develop architectural standards for new construction that would maintain the Airport's historical quality and low-intensity; determine which facilities would be re-used, renovated or potentially demolished and rebuilt; soften the existing infrastructure with greening and alternative storm water management; and integrate active transportation. After 2015, the City could identify and implement access strategies on the south side of the Airport and ensure that all future, onsite projects align with the community's vision for the Airport.
A Creative Innovation-Manufacturing District Instead of an Incubator
As to the feasibility of developing a Sustainability Transportation Incubator and a Sustainability Center, IBI recommends an alternative: a Creative Innovation District, rather than a singular incubator project. IBI envisions the City in role of "curator" of certain activities, rather than as a developer of a structure or structures that would provide incubator space.
Three groups of activities or uses could be encouraged through this decentralized quasi-incubation concept. The first could be a core group of local entrepreneurs/tenants dedicated to manufacturing handcrafted products through sustainable practices. This group might include makers of furniture and musical instruments, new-technology bicycle manufacturers and coffee roasters. A second group could be tenants of emerging creative-class businesses, including startups of media/web-based services, architectural firms, fashion designers, and other members of the entertainment and arts communities. The third group of occupants could be local entrepreneurs that would provide venues for social interactions, such as microbreweries, cafes, restaurants, and book shops.
IBI recommends the creation of a creative innovation manufacturing district, rather than an incubator, because, among other things, the concept is more flexible and less costly to the City. Moreover, this approach would better reflect input received in Phase II because it would better maintain the Airport's current context and scale and better reflect a wider range of City values. Prior to 2015, the City could do additional assessment, form a multi-party entity to administer the district, secure funding, and develop model lease guidelines for groups of tenants. After 2015, the City could, among other things, develop a communications and marketing plan, begin leasing existing buildings for non-retail uses, and later lease to retail spaces (once the area is established). Staff supports the IBI recommendations and requests that Council discuss and comment on them and provide appropriate direction to staff.
Potential Changes to Airport Operations, Policies and Uses of Aviation Land Approaches to Reducing Adverse Impacts
Council directed staff to identify possibilities for restrictions on operations and other measures that would reduce adverse impacts and to continue communications with the FAA about such possibilities. Staff's communications with the FAA and with the local and national aviation communities indicate some flexibility and willingness to consider alternatives. They understand that, because of adverse Airport impacts, accepting the status quo is not an option from the City's and many Airport neighbors' perspective and that, if the Airport cannot and does not change, a closure fight appears likely. This understanding may foster acceptance of voluntary operational limitations and even outright restrictions.
Generally speaking, the FAA strongly favors achieving City goals through voluntary measures, rather than through restrictive regulations, and through approaches that have already been successfully utilized at other airports. Additionally, the FAA has indicated that it will willingly consider, and is not inclined to oppose, even novel voluntary measures that would reduce impacts so long as those measures respect federal law. However, the FAA has noted that, given its adjudicatory responsibilities, it cannot prejudge the legality of any issues related to Airport operations or take any other actions that would compromise its ability to determine any administrative cases that may arise from any dispute about operational restrictions, landing fees or the Airport's future.
Staff's dual goals in this effort have been to identify restrictions that would minimize adverse Airport impacts and ascertain the full extent of any improvements that could be made voluntarily or unilaterally but without litigation. Once more is known, the Council will be situated to fully understand and assess the Citys options. Meanwhile, staff believes that there is more to learn about the prospects for reducing adverse Airport impacts. And, given the existence of the 1984 Agreement and the grant conditions, there is more time for learning.
Proposals for Limiting Impacts Through Leasing Policies, Layout Modifications, and Voluntary Restrictions and Other Nonregulatory Means
Most of the discussion about reducing adverse impacts has focused on operational restrictions which would directly or indirectly limit access to the Airport. However, other approaches exist and will become increasingly available to the City with the expiration of the Airport leases, the 1984 Agreement, and the grant conditions. These approaches should be fully explored because they are significantly less likely to be challenged by the federal government than outright restrictions on operations or access and because there is some additional time for exploration. Therefore, staff recommends continued evaluation of improvements possible through: modifying leasing policies and the tenant mix; imposing performance standards through leases; reconfiguring the Airport to minimize adverse impacts on residential neighborhoods; and continued discussion with the FAA and the aviation community.
Staff's investigation of these possibilities to date indicates that they could yield a significant reduction in the adverse impacts of noise, which is the residents' number one concern. Staff and the Airport neighbors agree that a high percentage of operations and noise complaints result from flight school operations. This is not surprising. There are six flight schools at the Airport. Their patterned operations constitute a significant percentage of total operations. These operations are undertaken at low altitude and consist of repetitive over-flights above residential neighborhoods in Santa Monica and Los Angeles. Thus, noise could be significantly reduced if patterned operations were reduced.
A reduction might be accomplished by altering the mix of aviation businesses through future leasing policies, which could change the tenant mix so that aviation needs and legal requirements are met, but the number of businesses that adversely impact neighbors are minimized. For example, at present, the 1984 Agreement requires three full service FBO's. Once the Agreement expires, that requirement will no longer apply. And, at present, there are six flight schools on the Airport. When the current leases expire, that number can likely be reduced.
Additionally, flight school operations might be limited through lease terms or other voluntary agreements. In 2011, flight school operators agreed to a stricter voluntary curfew on repetitive operations than the general curfew imposed by the Municipal Code. (The voluntary agreement covers repetitive operations after 8 p.m. during Daylight Savings and on Sundays and after 9:00 p.m. at other times.) This program has been successful. Since its inception in January 2012, staff reports that there have been only ten instances of deviation. This could be a model for more stringent restrictions, which flight school operators may be willing to consider in order to avoid the risks of a closure fight.
Similar approaches could be used to address air pollution. For instance, leasing policy might be changed to favor the selection of tenants who agree, for example, to dispense the most environmentally friendly fuels available.
Staff's research shows that noise impacts of patterned operations can also be reduced through other means. The muffler testing project demonstrated that significant noise impact reductions can be achieved by retrofitting aircraft with mufflers. Additionally, staff is evaluating other sound mitigation equipment that allows pilots to reduce noise and conserve fuel by adjusting propeller pitch and revolutions per minute. Theoretically, the City may be able to incentivize or require retrofitting of some or all training aircraft through its leases with flight school operators. Staff proposes to further explore this possibility and is therefore recommending development of a pilot project to retrofit aircraft used in flight training and including $200,000 for funding the project in the upcoming budget. At present, staff anticipates that the pilot program would involve matching grants.
Other gains are possible through reconfiguration of the uses on aviation land. For example, the aviation related businesses and activities could all be relocated from the south side of the Airport, where they are near a residential neighborhood, to the north side of the Airport, which is adjacent to a business park. This possibility might entail decommission and removal of the lower-south taxi lane (east of the American Flyers leasehold) and the removal or relocation of other facilities, including the 22-T hangars, transient aircraft parking, and ramps. These possible changes would have the advantage of separating aviation from residential uses, which could mitigate both noise and air pollution. Staff proposes to assess the extent of the potential gains afforded by all of these possibilities.
Staff also proposes to continue working with the FAA and aviation community to try and achieve these goals through all possible means and to also pursue other goals that the City cannot attain through local regulation the most important being headings on takeoff. This issue became a source of heated conflict in 2009-2010 when the FAA tested its proposed 250 degree heading, which routed slower, propeller-driven aircraft over Ocean Park rather than straight to the coast. The FAA has stated that a revised heading is or may be necessary to achieve the required separation between planes departing from Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) and SMO. Staff has argued that the advent of GPS technology affords navigational precision that may allow for flexibility in separation requirements. Additionally, staff has argued that a waiver from separation standards would be appropriate in Santa Monica's case because routing departing planes over Ocean Park's hills effectively decreases their altitude. So far, the FAA has not indicated flexibility. Instead, it has announced that the issue will be considered later, as part of its Metroplex study, which will redesign airspace for the entire region. And, whenever the issue is considered, residents of Venice will argue that departures from Santa Monica's airport should be routed over Santa Monica. Staff proposes to continue working on this difficult issue, but since the City cannot control aircraft in flight, local regulation is not an option. Therefore, staff proposes to continue working with the FAA formally and informally.
Proposals for Limiting Operations Through Local Regulation
Through the Visioning Process and otherwise, staff has received many suggestions for local laws that would restrict operations in order to reduce noise and air pollution and enhance runway safety. Generally speaking, most of these suggestions involve: banning types of aircraft; banning or limiting flight schools and patterned operations; lowering noise limits; or expanding curfews. Other suggestions involve changes to the runway for the purpose of enhancing community health and safety, which would have the effect of limiting Airport access.
Community members propose eliminating all flight schools or banning patterned operations. These goals would probably be difficult to achieve. Pilots with aircraft based at the Airport must periodically "qualify" to maintain their certifications, and this requires undertaking patterned operations training at the base airport a requirement that functions to promote safety. Staff has been unable to identify any airport that prohibits patterned operations. And, the City's current restrictions on repetitive operations are relatively strict only one of the surveyed airports in the region has comparable restrictions. Thus, the FAA and aviation industry would almost certainly oppose any attempt to prohibit patterned operations or entirely eliminate flight schools. And, they could challenge a City law or policy that allowed only one flight school on the basis of the federal prohibition against creating "exclusive rights" at airports, which exists independently of grant conditions.
Nonetheless, the aviation community may accept more stringent imitations to avoid or resolve an Airport closure fight, particularly because flight training at the Airport, beyond what is necessary to maintain pilots' certifications, may be perceived by the federal government and aviation community as less vital than protecting Airport access and SMO's reliever function. Thus, it may be possible to significantly curtail patterned operations through a combination of restrictions and voluntary measures. And, given the significant percentage of operations attributable to flight training and its
environmental impacts, staff believes that this dual approach affords significant possibilities for reducing adverse Airport impacts.
Other proposals for regulations include strengthening noise limits and expanding curfews. Specifically, staff has considered the possibility of reducing the maximum allowable noise limit. This change would effectively require operators of noisier aircraft to change their mode of operation, primarily by reducing aircraft takeoff weight, which would reduce the overall noise signature of the event, thereby reducing the adverse impact on Airport neighbors. However, the FAA apparently takes the position that further reductions to Santa Monica's noise limit could only be undertaken pursuant to ANCA requirements, and the City's noise consultant reports that the City cannot meet the ANCA standard. The City might successfully argue that the ANCA requirements do not apply once the grant conditions expire. This is a legal issue that requires more exploration. Meanwhile, staff's research indicates that the City's current noise regulation, which preceded the adoption of ANCA and is grandparented, is one of the most stringent in the nation a fact which could make it difficult to defend adoption of a more stringent standard in a legal proceeding. Nonetheless, because noise is the number one community concern, staff proposes additional work on all possibilities for noise regulation.
Regulatory changes to curfews have also been proposed. The Municipal Code currently prohibits engine starts or departures between 11:00 p.m. and 7:00 a.m. on weekdays and 11:00 p.m. and 8:00 a.m. on weekends. There is no curfew on arrivals. Staff's survey shows that only eleven of the 43 airports surveyed have curfews. And, among airports in the region included on Attachment F, only Torrance has an earlier departure curfew. As to arrival curfews staff has identified only two airports in the country that have them. Staff will obtain more information on those airports. Meanwhile, staff has considered trying to expand the curfew by one hour. However, this would likely have minimal impact because so few planes depart after 10:00 p.m. or arrive after 11:00 p.m. And, since this would be a direct limit on access, it is more likely to generate litigation. So, this option probably poses a clear litigation risk for a minimal gain.
Residents' other major concern, besides noise, is air pollution. Some have suggested banning fuel sales altogether. This goal is probably unattainable. Staff is unaware of any airport in the country at which fuel sales are prohibited, and the federal government would likely strenuously oppose any such restriction. Other community members have proposed banning the sale of certain classes of fuels. Given that considerable federal and private resources are being expended on the development of alternative aviation fuels, staff recommends monitoring and promoting developments in green aviation fuel, continuing to cooperate in air quality and health-impact studies, and continuing to evaluate prospects for addressing issues of air pollution through lease terms and incentives, rather than through regulation. The City's exploration of green aviation fuels will continue with a symposium at the Airport, scheduled for June of this year.
Also, as in the past, many community members suggest addressing adverse impacts and enhancing safety by expressly banning jet aircraft outright or by reconfiguring the runway and installing runway safety areas, which would enhance runway safety by shortening the useable runway and thereby restrict jet access. Community members who favor attempting to ban jets rest their arguments on the Airport's size and location, which make it more suitable for smaller, piston-driven aircraft than for faster and larger aircraft. Homes are located within 300 feet of the runway ends, and there are no runway safety areas or buffer zones. The Airport is sited below the hills of the residential neighborhood immediately to the east and above the residential neighborhood immediately to the west. Busy arterial streets lie between the Airport and both neighborhoods. Residents of both Santa Monica and Los Angeles therefore continue to urge that jets should be banned and that runway safety enhancements (which would effectively shorten the runways) must be installed.
This is exactly the position that the City took in its long and difficult battle with the FAA over the Aircraft Conformance Program. The FAA argued in that case that, because jet aircraft have a better safety record than piston aircraft, it is discriminatory to ban them. The FAA prevailed; and, today, the agency takes the position that the jet ban litigation legally determined the Airport to be safe for jets. Therefore, while the FAA strongly supports safety enhancements at airports, it will continue to vigorously oppose any attempts to ban jets from the Airport or to effectively exclude them by shortening the runway. Thus, it appears unlikely that the exclusion of jets is attainable short of closure or partial closure of the Airport, which would entail its own set of issues and concerns. Nonetheless, staff recommends continuing to explore possibilities for enhancing runway safety.
Finally, other suggestions for restrictions include restrictions that have been adopted elsewhere and upheld in court. These include Van Nuys' "Stage II Non-addition Rule" and New York's "Operation Reduction Rule" for helicopters. Staff agrees that any restriction, which has been upheld in court, is worth considering. However, both of those cities' restrictions address circumstances quite different than Santa Monica's.
Fighting for Closure: Uncertain Results
Although the City-wide resident satisfaction survey shows that Airport impacts are not a major concern to most residents, the Visioning Process made one thing very clear: many Airport neighbors will not accept maintenance of the Airport status quo after the expiration of the 1984 Agreement and the grant conditions. And, the work done to date shows that adverse impacts can be reduced and improvements can be made. Thus, the questions for Council consideration become: can the City envision and create an improved Airport that is a good neighbor and that benefits the community? Or, should the City fight to close the Airport?
That attempting closure would necessitate a legal fight is certain. In general, the FAA and the national aviation community share the core mission of keeping airports open. AOPA reports that, in 1969, there were 7,192 public use landing facilities in the country; and, in 2009, there were 5,178. Both the FAA and the larger aviation community staunchly and unswervingly oppose this trend. The FAA condones no closures and allows or suffers them only on very rare occasions. The industry is very well organized, politically influential, and expert at fighting closures. As to SMO, the FAA has previously and strenuously argued that Santa Monica cannot close the Airport because the post-war transfers obligate operation of the Airport in perpetuity. The FAA has also argued that the grant obligations require the City to operate the Airport until at least 2023. In response, the City has argued that the grant conditions expire in 2015 and that the post-war transfers do not obligate the City to continue to operate the Airport indefinitely. Ultimately, a court would have to resolve these issues. However, the City's ultimate chance of prevailing in court is difficult to predict. What is certain is that the issues would likely take several years to resolve and that the final decision would not be the City's, but the judiciary's.
Moreover, there is additional uncertainty, which could be an even more significant consideration. Closure and reuse of the land for another purpose or purposes would have collateral consequences, which are difficult to predict but must factor into Council's consideration of the Airport's future. One of those consequences is very likely increased density and traffic.
Many Airport neighbors who favor closure advocate creating a large park or dedicating the land to other passive use. But, the City simply does not have, and will likely not have the General Fund resources to create and maintain such a very low density use of this valuable property, particularly in this post-redevelopment era. Based upon recent City experience, the design, demolition, and construction costs of a large park would far exceed $50 Million and might well be multiples of that; and yearly operational costs
would be in the millions. And, City residents, as a whole, might be reluctant to pay the huge cost of a large park located on the City's border with Los Angeles, which would be heavily used by Los Angeles residents. Thus, if the City fights for and finally achieves closure, the Airport land, or much of it, will likely be redeveloped. Moreover, given current trends, the development would likely be dense. This would be a very significant change because the current Airport is a very low-density use of the land. Therefore, one likely eventual consequence of Airport closure and redevelopment of the land would be significant development and attendant impacts, such as increased traffic. And, one more immediate consequence would likely be a difficult and protracted land use debate akin to what Irvine has experienced in the aftermath of the El Toro closure.
Also, if the Airport were closed, flight patterns over the City could be subject to change. Specifically, closure might allow air carrier aircraft arriving at LAX from the northwest to fly over Santa Monica at lower altitudes. Currently carriers bound for LAX from the northwest overfly a navigational aid at the west end of the Santa Monica Airport at approximately 7,000 feet. These aircraft are held at this relatively high altitude to avoid conflicts with Santa Monica Airport traffic and other aircraft transiting through a special flight rules area over LAX. In effect, Santa Monica Airport's presence creates what amounts to a protective bubble in the airspace over Santa Monica. Aircraft, using the Airport, fly through that bubble. But, much larger, commercial aircraft, travelling to and from LAX must stay above it.
Concerns have been expressed that, if Santa Monica Airport closed, these LAX arrivals might be allowed to fly at much lower altitudes. Such a change could have significant noise impacts upon residential neighborhoods throughout the City and in West Los Angeles.
City staff sought information about this possibility from the FAA's Operations Support Group, which, among other things, promotes the effectiveness and efficiency of the
National Airspace System by analyzing and managing airspace and developing air traffic procedures. FAA reviewed staff's request and responded with an email stating: "the Operations Support Group capabilities simulate the cumulative effects of adding noise to a location on a defined air traffic route or at a specific terminal location, but we do not have the ability or resources to speculate what air traffic patterns or operations might look like in a "no airport" scenario. There are too many variables to consider and the resulting modeling would likely not be representative of the ultimate end result." Thus, the FAA apparently will not speculate on the impacts of closure upon commercial air traffic over Santa Monica and the West Side. The closure would certainly make more air space available to commercial carriers, and they might benefit from elimination of the sharp descent currently made by planes incoming to LAX from the north.
Legal uncertainties about the City's authority to close the Airport, and practical concerns about the collateral consequences of closure, have fueled interest in the possibility of a partial closure. This would entail closing only the quit-claimed parcel to aviation use and allowing aviation use to continue on the parcel covered by the Instrument of Transfer, which the FAA claims must be utilized as an airport in perpetuity. Staff recommends further exploration of the issues related to this possibility. Some are legal. Some are policy. Others relate to practical realities, such as the extent of the aviation facilities and operations that could be accommodated on the significantly reduced Airport foot print, the complexity and cost of creating a smaller airport, and the likely consequences of doing so.