Harrison Ford lands his jet at SMO. Photo via Zimio.
Harrison Ford lands his jet at SMO. Photo via Zimio.

An initiative designed to prevent the City from closing Santa Monica Airport, which sits on 227 acres of publicly owned land, has qualified for the November ballot, according to the L.A. County Registrar.

The Registrar officially announced Thursday that the initiative – backed by the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) and the National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) – had gotten at least the 9,000 signatures required to put it before voters this November.

If approved, the initiative would alter the City’s charter to prevent the City from making any land-use changes at the municipal airport – including restricting leaded fuel sales – without a popular vote.

On Tuesday, the City Council will finalize language for a rival ballot initiative that, if approved, would retain the Council’s discretion to begin closing down the airport by 2015, but would also require some sort of community process to determine the future use of the land.

Immediately following the Registrar’s announcement Thursday, Committee for the Local Control of Santa Monica Airport Land (CLCSMAL), a coalition of local activists opposed to the AOPA-backed initiative, issued a press release.

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“The AOPA/NBAA-sponsored measure is opposed by nearly all Santa Monica neighborhood associations, and citizen groups such as Santa Monicans for Renters Rights (SMRR),” CLCSMAL wrote.

“In addition, the city government opposes the measure. The City Attorney says it would strip the city of its ability to manage its many leases at SMO, most of which are NOT aviation-related. This means a potential loss to city taxpayers of millions of dollars,” the release said.

Opponents of the airport have long maintained that, with jets using the runway daily, taking off over neighborhoods, the airport is a health hazard as well as a noise nuisance. They argue that the airport is no longer an appropriate use of the land considering how Santa Monica has changed in the years since the airport was first built.

AOPA’s initiative drive began in in March, immediately after the City Council voted to move forward with plans to shut down the century-old airport after 2015. Using the group Santa Monicans for Open and Honest Development Decisions as a mouthpiece, AOPA has advertised its initiative an anti-development measure, employing buzz words designed to play on local anti-development sentiment.

“Voters will resolve one simple question: should Santa Monica voters be asked for their approval before politicians, developers and special interests can convert 227 acres of low-density airport land for their own purposes,” said John Jerabek, a member of Santa Monica Voters for Open and Honest Development Decisions, in a press release issued Thursday. “We think the clear answer is yes.”

This is despite the fact that the City Council, which is often split on development issues, is united against the AOPA initiative.

The City Council will have to decide Tuesday what its rival ballot measure will say as the deadline to put it on the ballot approaches.

While the final decision has yet to be made, staff’s proposal is that the Council’s ballot measure should “empower the voters to make an early decision on how they wish the Airport land is to be used if all or part of the Airport is closed,” according to the staff report.

“Under that option, the voters’ direction would frame the development of a specific plan for use of the Airport at such time as the Airport may be completely or partially closed,” the report says.

The upcoming election is only the most recent battle in a decades-long war Santa Monica has been waging with national airplane interests and the Federal Aviation Administration to prohibit jets from flying in and out of the airport, which is surrounded on all sides by neighborhoods.

In February, a federal judge tossed a lawsuit brought against the FAA by Santa Monica that local officials had hoped would once and for all affirm the City’s control over the land, which it owns.

While the judge did not rule in Santa Monica’s favor, neither did he explicitly deny the claims made by the City.