There was, however, one condition: the leasehold had to remain a civil airport, in return for development grants awarded to the city by the Federal government, or return the airport to Federal control.

The Santa Monica Airport (SMO) has a storied history. As Clover Field it had served the city as an airport since 1917. As home to Douglas Aircraft, it saw the birth and manufacture of the classic DC-3 commercial airliner. During World War II, Douglas employed as many as 44,000 people, working three shifts a day, seven days a week, in its SMO plants.

That meant the non-stop sound of riveting and engines running, and the continual sounds of test flying new production aircraft over the entire Los Angeles Basin. Anyone living within a few miles of the airport doubtless was subject to the relentless whine of water-cooled piston engines, both on the ground and in the air. And I doubt anyone living in Santa Monica would have said much about the noise, even if they were so inclined. Those living proximate to the airport mostly likely worked there, and had both an economic and patriotic interest in SMO.

Few from that era still live in Santa Monica. Which means that nearly all who currently live there purchased or rented houses, condos, or apartments in the intervening years, knowing full well that there was an airport nearby with more than 100,000 movements annually.

And who, according to the city fathers, continue to complain about the airport noise ruining their quality of life.

Memo to the current residents of the Santa Monica area: that storied field, site of Bill Lear’s Collier Award-winning autopilot manufacturing facility, has been home to an airport for almost a century. It was there when you moved in – didn’t you notice?

It’s certainly gotten enough publicity during the past fifty-plus years. In the early 1960s and again in the mid-1970s, the city tried close the airport by overturning the FAA’s 1948 transfer agreement. In both instances city and state attorneys nixed the attempts, saying it was not possible without the approval of the Federal government.

But they keep trying.

Last October Santa Monica filed suit seeking to void the conditions of both the 1944 Federal grant and subsequent lease transfer, saying that the city didn’t really relinquish title to the land when it leased the property to the Federal government for use as a military airfield and manufacturing facility. And that, according to Santa Monica, voids any subsequent agreements with the FAA requiring the city to maintain the land as an airport.

I never knew you could void a contract simply by declaring “INOP” on any terms and conditions contained in the original agreement that don’t suit you – or your Johnny-come-lately constituents. And I guess it isn’t enough that the city, in response to the resident complaints, has enacted a variety of operating restrictions to reduce noise, including a 24/7 maximum noise level of 95.0 dBs per event, and prohibiting takeoffs and engine starts between 11 pm and 7 am Monday through Friday; after 8 am on weekends.

Thankfully, the FAA is fighting the city’s latest attempt to seize the airport. It filed a motion on January 10 stating that the Quiet Title Act requires that such lawsuits be filed within twelve years after a claimant learns that the Federal government has an interest in the property. That interest was clearly established in 1944, as the government realized that the aviation manufacturing capability at Clover Field would be critical to the country’s efforts to end World War II.

So this most recent attempt to close the airport comes 58 years too late. Fortunately there are several far more recent exhibitions of Federal interest in SMO as an airport, in the FAA’s response to previous attempts to seize the airport in 1962, 1975, and 1984. In all cases both the city and state found that the FAA indeed maintained its interest in keeping SMO as an airport.

So why, given this history, does the city keep trying? Why do newcomers keep complaining? My guess is, based on recent experiences with politics in my own little hometown, that someone is whispering sweet nothings into the ears of prospective home buyers or renters.

“Don’t worry about that nasty, noisy old airport. It won’t be there very much longer,” while thinking, “Do you realize what that prime real estate in Southern California would be worth, if we could develop it? Lease revenue, tax revenue to the city, profits …”

We’ve had too many political commitments violated in recent years. Enough!


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