AOPA, SMO and the Faults with the California Referendum Process


AOPA Filing 140425

He told me it was a petition to ban large planes from the airport.
He told me if I signed it he would be able to eat tonight.
He told me it would stop the airport land from being developed.
He told me he was from Canada.

While anecdotal stories about the bumbling signature gathering process for a ballot referendum that would halt the city’s efforts to close (part or all) of the Santa Monica Airport are trickling in; a filing by “Santa Monicans for Open and Honest Development Decisions, Sponsored and Major Funding by Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association” clarifies for good that the petition drive is really an effort by a national group to influence a local political decision.

If AOPA gets 9,150 valid signatures the City Council will have a chance to rescind its resolution calling on staff to examine options to close the Santa Monica Airport when an agreement with the federal government expires in 2015 (or 2021, pending who you believe). Assuming the Council doesn’t do that, the resolution will appear on the fall ballot where a majority vote, no matter how slim, could overturn the City Council’s decision. AOPA has already put aside $20,000 for this effort as of their most recent filings with the City of Santa Monica.

When California passed laws creating the ballot initiative process in 1911, they did not do so figuring that powerful outside organizations would buy access to local ballots. They did so believing that it would empower citizens to take decision making into their own hands.

In 2014, we see the opposite. People who have no stake in whether or not the Santa Monica Airport remains opened, is developed into a compound or the nation’s first urban wild life habitat are being paid (by the signature if one circulator is to be believed) to get you to sign on the dotted line. Since the circulators don’t care or know about the issue, they’ll say whatever comes to their mind. If they get enough signatures, they’ll force a vote on this fall’s ballot. Then, we can witness months more of this sort of politicking.

Worst of all, the money to pay for this campaign isn’t coming from local pilots and airport aficionados, but a national pilots and aircraft owner’s association. AOPA has paid Arno Political Consultants (mis-identified on the filing as Arno Petition Consultants) $10,000 for this campaign.

Arno is somewhat notorious in political fields and have had fraud suits filed against their work in at least five states since 2004. Included in the list of accusations against the company are charges that they instruct circulators to lie and that they pay circulators by the signature instead of by the hour.

They have also been billed another $5,600 by direct mailing firm The Monaco Group for mailers to be delivered to your door soon.

The truth is, no matter whether you support or revile the airport, it can’t keep operating as it is today. Polls show that Santa Monicans and residents of the surrounding areas revile the airport and the city loses millions while others sublet their leases and make millions back. At the least, the overall way the airport does business needs to be reformed…a reform that would actually be blocked by AOPA’s ballot referendum if it is passed by voters this fall.

The deadline for gathering the needed signatures is approaching, AOPA needs to have its application completed in the middle of May at the latest to cover the time it takes for the County to certify the signatures and the City Council to review the measure before it goes on the ballot. If you’ve already signed a petition, you can actually get your name removed from the roles. You have to contact the City of Santa Monica’s Clerks Office at (310) 458-8211. The Healthy City Local has more information about how to rescind your signature.

Damien Newton
Damien Newton
Damien is the executive director of the Southern California Streets Initiative which publishes Santa Monica Next, Streetsblog Los Angeles, Streetsblog San Francisco, Streetsblog California and Longbeachize.


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