It was sunny and breezy at Santa Monica Airport on Saturday, a great day for flying -- and for protesting flying.
A few hundred local residents and several politicians held a midday rally in front of the dark glass of the airport's administrative offices (closed on weekends) to decry the environmental and safety hazards of the increasingly busy airfield. Not far in the distance, the objects of their protest -- gleaming private jets -- roared into the sky.
"The fact that the jets came in so dramatically in the last 10 to 15 years and there's no buffer zone is a serious issue," said Los Angeles City Councilman Bill Rosendahl, whose district includes the parts of L.A. that border the airport and who, like some of the other speakers, stood before the crowd with a gas mask around his neck.
"We have to let everybody know we're not going to tolerate it anymore!"
The crowd erupted in applause -- which was quickly drowned out by a jet.
A low drone of boos rose up from the group.
"That's one of our friendly neighbors," Martin Rubin, one of the event's organizers, deadpanned.
Rubin, founder and director of Concerned Residents Against Airport Pollution, said toxic fumes from idling jets harm residents' health and that the lack of buffers for out-of-control jets leaves residents -- some of whom live less than 300 feet from the runway -- vulnerable to possible crashes. According to activists, 90% of the fumes waft toward Los Angeles.
The rally, which was followed by a march on Bundy Avenue, is part of an intensive campaign waged for years by Santa Monica citizens. The airport was originally designed for slower, smaller aircraft. The community has no problem with the propeller planes that people see as they drive into the airport. At issue are the larger private jets whose traffic has skyrocketed with the advent of fractional jet usage -- in which travelers buy a partial interest in a type of jet, entitling them to a number of hours of flying time.
"When people moved into these neighborhoods ... they didn't have the pollutants coming out of these jets," Rosendahl said.
The city of Santa Monica has been criticized for not fighting the jet traffic at the airport, which is regulated by the Federal Aviation Administration.
"Their reaction when they get pushed is they're sympathetic, but they don't take action," said Marcia Hanscom, vice chairman of conservation for the Angeles Chapter of the Sierra Club.
Santa Monica City Councilman Kevin McKeown said he wants the council to toughen its stance. "I regret the jets coming in and out of this airport," he said. "We also are battling with the FAA."
Air quality was a big issue at the rally. "Jet Setters, You're Killing Us" read one demonstrator's sign. Some wore surgical masks over their mouths.
Rosendahl believes that bigger jets should not be allowed at Santa Monica Airport and should be funneled instead to Van Nuys or Los Angeles International airports.
Assemblyman Ted Lieu (D-Torrance) told the crowd he had introduced a bill, AB 700, that would require the state to complete a study of air pollution caused by jets and turboprops taking off and landing at Santa Monica Airport.
Staff writer Sam Quinones contributed to this report.