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Santa Monica City Manager Names New Airport Advisor
By Lookout Staff
October 2, 2017 -- Santa Monica City Manager Rick Cole has tapped a Big Blue Bus official as his new Senior Advisor on Airport Affairs.
Suja Lowenthal, currently the Community and Government Engagement Manager for the Big Blue Bus, will replace Nelson Hernandez, who on Friday will retire from the post created in 2015.
"Santa Monica Airport is in transition," Cole said in a statement. "Among our key staff leaders, Suja has the breadth of experience and knowledge to continue the stakeholder engagement and thoughtful strategy required to implement the Consent Decree to reduce health and safety risks and work toward the evolution of SMO to a great park in 2028."
The City has been moving toward closing the century old airport by the end of 2028 under a consent decree with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) signed in January ("City, FAA Agree to Close Santa Monica Airport in 2028," January 28, 2017).
On October 9, work is scheduled to begin to shorten the runway from 5,000 feet to 3,500 feet, which City officials say will reduce jet traffic by 44 percent. The work is expected to be completed by December 30 ("Santa Monica Airport Runway Project Set to Begin," September 25, 2017).
Although the City continues to battle airport proponents who are challenging the airport deal in court, officials envision turning the 227-acre airort into a major park after the airport closes.
Lowenthal’s responsibilities will include "coordinating public policy analysis, research, Federal advocacy, media relations, and community outreach," City officials said.
"She will play a leadership and coordination role on all issues related to the land currently occupied by Santa Monica Airport," officials said.
Said Lowenthal, “While we have made significant strides at the airport in the past two years, I look forward to continued engagement with the community to address concerns related to airport operations, implementation of Council policy, and to establish a vision for airport land after it closes in 2028."
Lowenthal -- who will earn an annual salary of $162,036 -- will hold the "limited-term position" from October 16 to June 30, 2018.
The post was created in 2015 after the City Council selected securing local control of the municipal airport as one of its top strategic goals.
At BBB, Lowenthal oversaw the the transit agency's strategic planning initiatives, communications and government and public engagement, officials said.
The Santa Monica Airport Association quickly issued a statement criticizing the City's move.
"The Santa Monica City Council continues on its wasteful and reckless path to close SMO with the appointment of Suja Lowenthal as Senior Advisor to the City Manager on Airport Affairs, Read: 'Head of Closing SMO,'" said Alyssa Nunez, the association's administrator.
"Ms. Lowenthal will be paid at least a total $205,000 in salary and benefits to close a community asset that has been designated as 'Critical Infrastructure' by the City’s own 'All Hazards Mitigation Plan.'”
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