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Foes of closing Santa Monica Airport accuse city officials of conflict

PoliticsLaws and LegislationElectionsSanta Monica AirportGovernmentPublic Officials
Foes of closing Santa Monica Airport accuse city officials of conflict of interest in effort to shut facility
Formal complaint is filed against airport commissioners David E. Goddard and Stephen Mark

Stepping up their recent offensive, opponents of closing embattled Santa Monica Airport have accused two city officials of conflict of interest in their efforts to scale back and shut down the historic aviation facility.

Christian Fry, vice president of the Santa Monica Airport Assn., on Tuesday filed a formal complaint with the state Fair Political Practices Commission, a watchdog agency, against airport commissioners David E. Goddard and Stephen Mark.

Both men own homes in the Sunset Park neighborhood that are near the west end of the runway and among the closest to the flight paths. If the airport was closed, real estate agents have estimated that property values around the general aviation facility could jump 20% to 25%.

Citing real estate records, airport supporters claim that Goddard's home on Dewey Street and Mark's home on Navy Street are each worth slightly more than $1.4 million.

The complaint alleges that Goddard has participated in or used his official position to influence government decisions related to closing the airport or restricting flight operations at least 37 times, while Mark has done so at least 35 times.

"Their financial conflicts of interest are clear," the complaint states. "This blatant abuse of their official positions by Goddard and Mark must stop."

Goddard denies any conflicts in his and Mark's commission activities. He added that the Santa Monica city attorney has vetted their actions and found nothing wrong.

Under state law, Goddard said, there is no conflict of interest for voting on matters that have broad public benefit. Should the airport close, he contends, as many as 8,626 property owners in the city could see increases in values.

The California Political Reform Act prohibits members of boards, commissions and government task forces from participating in any decision or deliberation where there is a reasonable expectation that the activity might affect their financial interests.

In such a situation, local governments generally advise their officials to publicly disclose the potential conflict, recuse themselves from the proceeding and leave the meeting room while the matter is being considered.

But FPPC officials say that determining a conflict related to an official's home depends on a variety of factors such as the distance the residence is from the project being voted on, whether there is a financial impact and the number of property owners who would benefit besides the official.

FPPC officials say they cannot comment on the Santa Monica matter because they do not have all the facts. Generally, they say, officials could have a conflict if they voted on something within 500 feet of their property. However, there are exceptions to that rule.

The complaint is the latest development in an acrimonious dispute over the future of Santa Monica Airport — the former home of Douglas Aircraft Co. and the oldest continuously operating aviation facility in Los Angeles County.

Several weeks ago, a group of airport supporters, including the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Assn., submitted a petition to the city attorney calling for a ballot measure that would require voter approval to close the airport, alter its land use or restrict aviation facilities. The measure is now the target of a lawsuit by airport opponents.

The Los Angeles County Registrar of Voters is reviewing the petition to determine if it has enough valid signatures to qualify for the November election.

In response, the Santa Monica City Council has proposed its own initiative that would let voters decide the future of the airport but preserve the city's ability to manage the facility and mitigate its adverse effects.

dan.weikel@latimes.com

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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PoliticsLaws and LegislationElectionsSanta Monica AirportGovernmentPublic Officials
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