The LookOut columns | What I Say

Frank Gruber

In the Flight Path

By Frank Gruber

On Nov. 24, the New York Times ran an article -- the paper called it "Santa Monica Journal" -- about the unhappiness that surrounds the Santa Monica airport. The headline was "Enemy Aircraft Sighted and, Above All Else, Heard."

One of my more loyal readers is an uncle who lives in Texas. He's also an avid reader of the NYT and an early riser, and with a two-hour time zone head start he emailed me even before I had seen the article with a question: why hadn't I ever addressed the airport in a column?

Good question, I guess. I hadn't thought about it. But when I did, I realized that I had never written about the airport because I like to be a contrarian, or at least write about controversial issues. What's to write about when, to my mind, nearly everyone in Santa Monica including me agrees about the airport?

It has to go, and as soon as possible.

Which is sad. There's a lot about the airport to love. If you want to get mushy about the history of Santa Monica, if the Landmarks Commission or the Santa Monica Conservancy ever wanted to get really dangerous, that runway is as significant a landmark as Santa Monica has.

It's a great place to take a five-year-old, too. And I have a cousin who lives in San Francisco who owns a small single-engine plane -- a sort of Fiat Cinquecento with wings. He's flown it down a few times, and it's a lot of fun to meet him there and help him tie the plane down. For that matter it's fun to eat at Typhoon or the Hump and watch the planes take off and land.

But jets spoiled everything, and now the only thing to do is wait out the twenty years from the last time the City took federal money for the airport and the term of the 1984 settlement agreement expires, then try to close the place down. That will be in 2015, a date that once seemed in the unfathomable future, but now isn't that far off.

See you in court.

There's not much for me to add to Mayor Richard Bloom's opinion piece about the airport /11_26_07_OPINION_Santa_Monica_Airport_A_Time_for_Action, or Anita Varghese account in the Lookout about the Santa Monica City Council's action last week to ban Class C and D jets 11_28_07_Council_Bans_Faster_Planes_at_Airport, but I will say this: if the New York Times runs a follow-up story, I hope the headline is "FAA Urges Santa Monica to Destroy Homes so that Hollywood Stars and Hedge Fund Plutocrats Can Avoid LAX."

I suppose that every bureaucrat has to carry his own department's brief, but the letter from the Federal Aviation Administration's D. Kirk Shaffer to the City threatening litigation if the City Council tried to ban the bigger private jets is a remarkable document in how it illustrates how an obsession with a single purpose can make utterly mad someone who is probably a reasonable human being in real life.

Everyone who wonders from time to time why the federal government is not as popular as it should be should read Mr. Shaffer's letter, which is accessible as a PDF file [http://www.smgov.net/cityclerk/council/agendas/2007/20071127/s2007112707-C-2.pdf] from the City's website.

As I mentioned, the most outrageous bit in the letter is Mr. Shaffer's suggestion that to make the airport safe for Class C and D jets the City should buy up and destroy nearby homes. These large and fast private jets now land or take off about 9,000 times a year at the airport, a figure that's increased six-fold in about twenty years.

But in terms of perfect bureaucratic doublespeak, I have to highlight this quote that provides the rationale for Mr. Shaffer's suggestion: "Having a residential community close to the end of the runway does not affect the safety of normal operations. Rather, it increases the potential for injury from an aircraft accident off the end of the runway."

No kidding.

Airport defenders and jet proponents like Mr. Shaffer like to remind people that the airport existed before the nearby homes, but that's a specious argument, because the use of the airport by private jets came after the neighborhoods were built.

I suspect most local residents -- and I write as someone who lived in the flight path on Marine Street for many years -- would be okay if the airport went back to the way it was before jets. But now that genie is out of the bottle. The only solution is to close it down.

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A few weeks ago I made a suggestion that the City get on the case and build shelters for our transportation heroes who take the bus. I now understand that the Big Blue Bus has in fact developed a bus shelter program, and is waiting for approval from the rest of the city government. That's good, and I hope to have good news to report on that program soon.

But now I have another idea.

Friday afternoon -- the day of the rain -- I had to meet my wife at the Music Center for the opera that evening. She was coming from an event at USC, and she would have her car, so I decided to take the Number 10 bus, which stops right at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, from my office in downtown Santa Monica.

Since I knew the late afternoon traffic would be terrible, I cut out early, with the idea that I could see the Takashi Murakami exhibition at the Geffen Contemporary, and get a bowl of noodles in Little Tokyo before meeting my wife. I took an umbrella and I felt wonderfully urban if not urbane walking down from Bunker Hill on First Street in the drizzle. (But I can't figure out why the Geffen closes at five on a Friday night.)

The 2:42 bus was right on time, but given the even worse than normal rainy day traffic, it wasn't surprising that the bus arrived twenty minutes late, around four o'clock. The sign in the middle of the freeway that tells you how many more minutes to downtown L.A. said "40" so the bus in fact didn't take much longer than it would have taken me to drive. Along with most of the rest of the passengers I read a bit and dozed off; one young woman pulled out a laptop.

But I'll tell you something -- those hard bus seats that are all right if you're going to be on the bus for ten or fifteen minutes but they are rather uncomfortable after half an hour or so, and after an hour you have definitely lost circulation in your rear.

My suggestion -- for freeway buses like the Number 10 where most trips are going to be for at least forty-five minutes or an hour, why can't the Big Blue Bus and other transit operators provide our bus-riding transportation heroes more coach-like buses with more comfortable seats?

Last week I wrote about how Barack Obama is being seen, notably by commentator Andrew Sullivan, as the candidate who as president could move the nation beyond the politics of the Vietnam era. I haven't done much of the way of cultural coverage in this column, but I want to recommend, particularly to anyone who wants to recall or become acquainted with the political passions of the sixties, the revival production of the Chicago Conspiracy Trial at the Odyssey Theatre.

This is the Odyssey's third production of the play; the Odyssey originally produced it in 1979 (when I happened to be on the Odyssey board of directors) and then revived it 1994. The redoubtable George Murdock has played Judge Julius J. Hoffman each time. It's a great show, as ever, but perhaps even more powerful now given that, once again, there's a divisive war going on.

Unfortunately, the production only has two weekends left, as it must close Dec. 16. For ticket information, contact the Odyssey [http://www.odysseytheatre.com/].

Meetings. The next two weeks are going to full of workshops and hearings on projects that I have written about in this column. There is no way I can keep up with them, but here's at least a partial schedule.

Thurs., Dec. 6, Civic Auditorium East Wing, 6:30 to 9:00 p.m.: The City's planning department as part of the LUCE process is sponsoring a transportation workshop [ http://www.shapethefuture2025.net/PDF/transportation_flyer.pdf] "focusing on a sustainable approach to allocating transportation resources." Registration and refreshments start at 6:15. For more information and to RSVP (suggested so that the planners will have enough refreshments) go to www.shapethefuture2025.net or call 310 458 8341.

Mon., Dec. 10, Landmarks Commission Meeting, City Hall, Council Chambers, 7:00 p.m. Two controversial items, both continued from the November meeting, are on the agenda -- the ficus trees on Second and Fourth Streets and a contemporary building proposed to be built in the rear of a property in the Third Street Historic District.

Tues., Dec. 11, City Council Meeting. The council is tentatively scheduled to review the designs for the "Village" housing development at the Civic Center.

Weds., Dec. 12, Planning Commission Meeting, City Hall, Council Chambers, 7:00 p.m. The agenda http://www.smgov.net/planning/commission/agendas/pc2007/pa20071212.htm ] of the Planning Commission for this meeting has several important items, but I'll highlight one, the first affordable condominium project that Community Corporation of Santa Monica is developing in the city. More information is available in the staff report [http://www.smgov.net/planning/commission/agendas/pc2007/ps2007121210-B.pdf ].

* * *

I have always liked the beach when it's cold and windy. Saturday, the day after the rain, the ocean breeze blew the beach clear of people. Of course, there were still some chess players, and families on the Pier, or people fishing.

photos 1, 2, 3, 4, 5


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If readers want to write Frank Gruber, email frank@frankjgruber.net The views expressed in this column are those of Frank Gruber and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of
The Lookout.

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