City Council Meeting: December 14, 2010

Agenda Item: 8 - B

To:                Mayor and City Council 

From:            Rod Gould, City Manager

Subject:        Public Process Regarding the Future of Santa Monica Airport


Recommended Action


Staff recommends that the City Council:


1.    Direct staff to proceed with a comprehensive public process regarding the future of Santa Monica Airport.

2.    Authorize the City Manager to negotiate and execute a professional services agreement with The Rand Corporation, a California-based company, in an amount not to exceed $145,000, for a study of airport and non-airport real property development concepts and applications and local applicability.

3.    Authorize the City Manager to negotiate and execute a professional services agreement with   Point C, a California-based company, in the amount of $81,500, to formulate and manage an extensive community process regarding the range of possibilities for the Airport’s future.



Executive Summary

The future of the Airport one of the most important land use decisions facing the City.  Staff recommends a comprehensive process including creation of a vision for the future of the Airport, analysis of relevant concepts and their local applicability, as well as broad stakeholder engagement about the future of the Airport. 


To begin that process, the City Manager has exercised his authority to identify firms that are uniquely qualified to assist the City with this unique and crucial task: the Rand Corporation and Point C.


Rand was identified because of its impeccable reputation and credentials and its deep understanding of the community.  After evaluating the City's needs, Rand has proposed to undertake an initial study of the current state-of-the-art with regard to nontraditional uses of airport and airport-adjacent land and to prepare a presentation on the range of possible futures that could be considered for the Airport.  The cost of the initial study is $145,000.  An expanded scope of work could be considered in the future. 


Point C was identified because of its experience solving critical urban infrastructure, transportation and land-use problems through inclusive and strategic planning processes.  Point C’s many successes include its work on the Alameda Corridor and the Pasadena Metro Blue Line.  It has proposed to design and facilitate a broadly inclusive public process to envision possibilities for the Airport's future.  The estimated cost of the proposed work is $81,500.  



Staff anticipates that, with the aid of Rand and Point C, the initial visioning process would take approximately 12 months to complete, after which a report or reports would be prepared for public consideration and so that a process could be formulated for assessing and selecting an option or options and moving into a more focused  planning phase. 



The City acquired the Santa Monica Airport in 1926 and has operated it continuously since then, except during World War II, when it was operated by the US Government.  Thus, the Airport is one of oldest in the country, and it is also one of the most historically significant, partly because of its vital role in the development of the modern air transportation system. Among other things, the first aircraft to circumnavigate the planet took off from the Airport, and the  Douglas DC-3 was developed there.  At one point in time, the airport was home to the City's largest employer, Douglas Aircraft; and much of the Sunset Park neighborhood was built to house that workforce.  However, the advent of jet aircraft and attendant increased impacts upon residents living in close proximity brought controversy, resulting in litigation about the City's ability to limit Airport usage and a dispute between the City and the Federal Aviation Administration. 


In 1984, the City and the federal government resolved their differences through adoption of the 1984 Agreement, governing Airport operations.  That agreement facilitated the City’s enactment of one of the strictest Airport Code and Noise Ordinance in the nation. These operational restrictions limit, among other things, the maximum allowable noise level an aircraft can generate, limit the hours of operation of the Airport, curtail certain types of aircraft operations and prohibit helicopter flight training. Subsequent to this in 1990 Congress passed the Airport Noise and Capacity Act that effectively prohibited any new local controls without going through a long and expensive federally mandated process (that to date no airport has successfully accomplished). However, the City’s current restrictions were grandfathered in and remain in effect.


In recent years, increased jet operations have sparked renewed issues between the City and federal government.  Legal proceedings to block the City's ability to protect airport neighbors and users by enacting safety restrictions to implement federal runway safety standards were instituted by the federal government in 1999 and remain ongoing today. 


Meanwhile, the Airport continues to serve a variety of community needs.  It is the largest facility owned and operated by the City, and it serves various needs in addition to aviation.  It is not just home to over 400 based aircraft, the Museum of Flying, the DC-3 Monument, and numerous aviation service providers that offer a wide range of services to the flying public. The Airport also serves the community's recreational needs with an 8 ˝ acre recreational area consisting of play fields and a dog park.  It also provides a home for a thriving cultural and arts community that includes the highest concentration of artists' studios in the City as well as live theater.  And, it provides office space for nonprofits and classrooms for college students and is a major event site.   



The expiration of the 1984 Agreement will present new opportunities for the City. The Airport is one of the City’s key assets with attendant responsibilities. Therefore, the future of the Airport is a very serious question and the associated land use decisions are some of the most important issues facing the City.  To determine what is in the best interests of the City and its citizens, staff recommends engaging a broad group of stakeholders in a process informed by best practices, global trends, and state-of-the art thinking in compatible land use development. With a full range of options identified, the City can then undertake a planning process grounded in a comprehensive understanding of what is possible, and the associated costs and benefits.


While the Airport has been a hot topic for years, the debate has not been informed by information or analysis about the Airport's role in the larger community, including, for instance, the role it plays in the City's economy.   Nor has the debate benefited from information about industry best practices, leading airport development concepts, and global trends in airport and non-airport real property development. 


Instead, the conversation has been focused on two options. Some have urged that the Airport should be closed at the earliest opportunity.  Others have argued that the City lacks legal authority to close the Airport and must maintain it as is.    Little if any attention has been given to what is likely a broad range of possibilities between these two extremes.


A comprehensive process including analysis of relevant concepts and their local applicability, as well as inclusive conversations with stakeholders and partners about the future of the Airport, would elevate the debate to a new level.  Informed by possibilities, people from throughout the community with different interests and perspectives would be able to imagine a range of possible uses and operational scenarios. New information plus broad engagement would result in a conceptual framework by which to assess and recommend options for future Council consideration and a more focused planning phase, well in advance of the impending operation permit deadline of 2015. The endeavor will be distinct from previous conversations because of its focus on yielding a mutually beneficial, sustainable plan for the Airport’s future that can serve as a national model.


Point C and Rand are ideally suited to assist with this process.  Point C specializes in challenging public projects that require creativity and consensus building.  The company was founded by David Grannis, whose extensive resume includes working as the Funding Project Manager for the Alameda Corridor project, advising several Southern California cities on strategic transportation planning and infrastructure programs and approaches, and serving as special advisor to Mayor Riordan on transportation recovery after the Northridge Earthquake.    Point C's approach to strategic planning and implementation focuses on the principle of “controlling your own destiny" through a thorough and accurate understanding of both the problem to be solved and full range of potential solution-sets.   Point C's work for the City on this project would entail formulating and managing an extensive community process for identifying and assessing the spectrum of possibilities for the Airport's future.


Rand would supply the information necessary to inform this visioning process.  Specifically, Rand would study the current state of the art with regard to nontraditional uses of airport and airport-adjacent land, assess the alternatives that are most relevant to the Airport and organize and prepare a presentation on the range of possible futures that could be considered for the Airport.  After the initial visioning process has identified a full range of alternatives, Rand may provide additional assistance.  During the initial phase of this community process Rand's reputation for superb research will ensure that the community discussion is informed by a thorough understanding of current best practices in the usage of  airport property and adjacent lands. And, Rand's impeccable reputation and demonstrated commitment to the community will obviate any concerns about the reliability or objectivity of the presentation on the range of possible options.


Financial Impacts and Budget Actions

The contract to be awarded to The Rand Corporation will not exceed $145,000.  The contract to be awarded to Point C will not exceed $81,500.  Funds are included in the FY10-11 budget at account 01202.555060.


Prepared by:       Robert D. Trimborn, Airport Director

                           Marsha Jones Moutrie, City Attorney





Forwarded to Council:







Kathryn Vernez

Assistant to the City Manager for Community and Government Relations


Rod Gould

City Manager