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State Airport Bill Grounded

By Olin Ericksen
Staff Writer

July 12 -- After months of momentum, a bill that would require Santa Monica Airport to keep close track of aircraft idling times to study the effects of pollution on neighboring residents has been grounded.

On June 27, the bill fell a single vote short in the 13-member State Senate Committee on Transportation and Housing, likely signaling the demise of a measure that singles out the local airport and could cost the City as much as $500,000 to implement.

“It may get granted for reconsideration, but we’re thinking that for this year, at least, (the bill is) dead,” said David Ford, chief of staff to Assembly member Ted Lieu, who sponsored the bill.

The news was disheartening for the local neighborhood group, Friends of Sunset Park, and vocal Mar Vista residents fed up with the airport’s nearly 18,000 jet operations a year.

“I’m very disappointed they voted the way that they did; it’s a clear bill,” said Marty Rubin, head of Concerned Residents Against Airport Pollution, made up of residents to the east and south of Santa Monica Airport.

The residents have spent years lobbying lawmakers to address pollution concerns they say are evidenced by the smell of burnt jet fuel which lingers in their neighborhood, parts of which is separated from the airport by a single stretch of road.

Last month’s vote was a boost to Santa Monica City officials, who have launched an intense lobbying campaign that included flying the City’s airport manager and a deputy City Attorney to Sacramento to testify on the key vote.

Airport Manager Bob Trimborn -- a vocal opponent of a bill he says would be costly to Santa Monica and duplicative of pollution studies commissioned by the Air Quality Management District (AQMD) on all airports in the area -- welcomed the news

“I think the bill was overkill, personally,” said Trimborn, noting that elements in the legislation will actually be taken up voluntarily in the study performed AQMD, which has already begun.

“It’s unfortunate that we fell on the side of the opposition, but we were tied up,” he said. “We tried to work with the author to make amendments to the bill, but the amendments were not taken up until the last minute, and by then it was too late.”

Those last-minute amendments were welcomed by Lieu’s camp, including limiting the data collection to jet and turbo-prop aircraft, timing only taxing and idling times and limiting data collection to hours when the tower is open during peak traffic times.

However, once in committee, the rules of order barred such amendments from being added to the bill.

Yet Ford believes such amendments may not have made a difference in the end.

“The overriding hang-up here was funding,” he said. “We would have had to come to the committee with a half million dollars.”

While some dispute the City’s estimated cost of collecting the data -- placing the amount as low as $35,000 -- Ford said there really is no way to know the actual cost.

While the bill appears to have been defeated in its current form, Ford suggested the hard work by residents to gain the backing of Federal, State and the entire Los Angeles City Council has not been wasted.

“On the plus side, the bill certainly got Santa Monica’s attention,” said Ford, who called the elements in the bill taken up in the AQMD study “woefully inadequate,” but still a start.

The AQMD data will log idle and taxi times for jet and turbo-prop planes, but on a smaller scale than proposed. It also will augment the AQMD study, rather than be used in models to show the pollution path into adjoining neighborhoods as dictated in the failed Lieu bill.

“This is the first time that Santa Monica has stepped up and said the pollution from the airport is something worth studying, and we hope it will be a launching pad for further discussion,” Ford said.

Though the bill has a chance of being resurrected when the legislative session begins next month, Ford said it is more likely the measure would be killed and reintroduced sometime next year by Lieu’s office.

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