In Their Own Words: Snell, Raskin, Hall, Lesley, Ownes, and Zernitskaya on the Future Uses for Santa Monica Airport


Last week, the Santa Monica Democratic Club broadcast a debate with six candidates for Santa Monica City Council. As the debate was held before the filing deadline, the group reached out to all declared candidates and incumbents.

Six candidates attended the forum, Barry Snell, Ellis Raskin, Dan Hall, Ericka Lesley, Marcus Ownes, and Natalya Zernitskaya. You can watch the full debate here, and we’ve transcribed each candidate’s answer to a question about the future of Santa Monica Airport.

Santa Monica Next will give this treatment to other Council debates between now and the November election. Last week, we kicked off this series by transcribing the answers given by five candidates (Snell, Raskin, Hall and Zernitskaya) to a question about implementing the city’s mobility plan at the forum hosted by Streets 4 All.

Answers have been lightly edited for length and clarity.

John Katz, Democractic Club: In 2014, Santa Monica voters decided to close the Santa Monica Airport to make room for a Grand Park on the same space. The council we elect this November will take the formal vote in 2028 to make that a reality. A few months ago, the Democratic Club had a forum where many different ideas were proposed on how to best use this land, and the city is in the process of seeking input. 

Do you believe that housing should be considered as a suitable use for the airport? If so, would you propose affordable or market rate housing? And if not, what specifics would you like to see on this land?

Natalya Zernitskaya: So I advocated for and voted for Measure. LC. That was actually my first Santa Monica election, first I could vote in as a Santa Monica resident. 

I do think that housing can be an appropriate use for some of that land. It is 227 acres, after all. It’s quite a bit of land, but the type of housing that I would like to see there would be something like social housing, something that’s more mixed income. 

It may be deed restricted, affordable. It may not. 

It may be built by nonprofits. It may not. 

That is all up in the air at this point. I think that it should serve the needs of our community. So I really love the idea of having social housing in that area, having a kind of low scale, having it blend with the surrounding area when we make it this great park.3

Barry Snell: The airport…that is excellent opportunity for us to discuss about many uses. I support LC and support the Santa Monica airport becoming a park. But we have the opportunity during this period of time to talk to the community about their vision with respect to it. 

We know we have a crisis with housing now. So I would think that that would be some of the discussion. I’d like to listen to the residents. 

We receive $20 million from the airport, which goes into our Airport Fund, which could not be utilized for anything at this point in time, because it’s an airport. 

Should the airport go away? That $20 million would come into our general fund, which would be very helpful into our our coffers. To answer your question about housing, I would really want to listen to the community as to what their thoughts are. 

I do support the park, though

Dan Hall: I respect and support Measure LC, period. 

The land should be used for the development of parks, for public open spaces, for public recreation facilities, and the maintenance and replacement of existing cultural arts and education uses. I think we have plenty of opportunity to develop housing in spaces around the airport that are not covered by LC. I think there’s plenty of opportunity for urban infill and for gently increasing the densities along our commercial boulevards, as opposed to losing this once in a lifetime generational opportunity to create a great park on the west side of LA. 

It’s going to be expensive, and I know we are in a financial crisis right now, but we should be looking to public, private partnerships and regional solutions with LA County and the City of LA. They’re going to be using it just as much as Santa Monicans are. But bottom line, LC is what the voters wanted, and it’s what I respect and support.

Ericka Lesley: I think our parks are amazing. You know, Tongva Park particularly is really amazing. 

The thing is, to have a park when we have the highest amount of homelessness ever experienced? The crisis is too high, unfortunately, right now to only build a park right there. 

There needs to be affordable housing. So I would encourage for there to be some sort of transitional housing where there’s services provided on a sub permanent basis, just somewhere for someone to land off their feet. 

They can take the train building train systems right by the by the park, so that they can get to and from work, to and from their home, and to have some sort of system in place where they could enjoy the park, yes, but also go somewhere to talk about drugs, about addiction, and, have some sort of therapy session. 

I think it’d be very important for their community to build that. 

The vision for the airport should be a park, but it should be mixed use. 

We need to repurpose the buildings that are there already and put them into utilization. We need to build more housing, and that’s a perfect place for it. It would be a beautiful place. You guys just have the vision to see it. 

Ellis Raskin: Yeah, I agree with a lot of what’s been said tonight. 

Don’t get me wrong, we need more housing in Santa Monica, but not at the airport. I fully support the use of the airport land as a park and other public serving uses consistent with measure LC. We have a lot of opportunities immediately around the park to have great opportunity to redevelop, for example, the Boston property site, just north airport, and other areas in the in the general surrounding area. 

And we’ve seen a lot of other places where folks or cities have redeveloped properties like airports or other public service uses into a parK; they’ve had tremendous success upzoning the land immediately around the park to make it really a center of community space. And as others have said tonight, this is a once in a lifetime opportunity to have a space of this size of continuous land where we can develop parks and other public servant uses.

Marcus Ownes: Great response. I would just like to add, yes, a great park is amazing, but when we look at the cost of rent throughout LA County; the only way to reduce that would be building more affordable housing. I have community members reaching out to me right now, “How would you help reduce the cost of rent?” 

Everyone’s talking about the high cost of rent. Everyone wants to talk about the low minimum wage, but how about let’s, let’s, let’s reduse the cost of living. The best way to do that is utilize every opportunity we have.

Ellis: Yeah, absolutely for affordable housing. Just not at the park.

Natlaya: So I just wanted to clarify something about LC. 

It stated that, “shall the land be used for a great park until the voters decide what to do with it.” 

So if we do want any housing there, potentially it would have to be approved by the voters anyway. So we wouldn’t just be able to unilaterally decide, “Okay, we’re putting housing here.” 

No, people would have to have buy in. We would have to make a case to both. Whoever wants housing there will have to make a case to voters. Why? And what kind?

Marcus: At the end of the day, it’s up to the voters. That’s why I say it’s very important who you vote in, because at the end of the day you have people that don’t listen to the community and people that do listen to the community. So I think it’s very important to have someone that’s open, and that’s who I intend to be.

I’m very flexible when it comes to ensuring that communities needs are met. 

Dan Hall: So thank you for that clarification, Natalya. I know that is a kind of hidden part of Measure LC that folks know about. 

Look, I’m a pilot. I understand what the aviation community wants for the airport. And as a housing advocate myself, I think housing advocates have to play the politics of this very carefully. 

The aviation interests and the business interests that are at the airport will partner with NIMBYs to block the development of a park if we start straying from Measure LC. 

So it’s very important for housing advocates to play the politics of this very smartly. The community has asked for a park, and we should respect that.

Natalya: Dan, you bring up a really great point about the potential blow back of folks trying to keep the airport open if they think we’re trying to do anything with the park. 

I know that the there are discussions throughout community that I’m sure have been ongoing for a while, ever since we signed the consent decree. I do think that if we wanted to potentially explore housing there, we shouldn’t start doing anything until closer to 2028 because we should absolutely close it first.

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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