FAA rejected over airport

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At their initial glance, the editors reading this column might think that I have quite a scoop. Most of us know that the East Hampton Airport has been a center of controversy for decades. Part of that controversy has been the town’s relationship with the Federal Aviation Administration, and that has included what the town chooses to accept in funds and other services from the FAA and what control over the airport it has to give up in return.

But the column for this week can be re-named “Farther West,” as it is being written Friday and Sunday, March 28 and 30, in Southern California—where, I can snarkily report, it has been sunny and 70 degrees for five straight days.

The lead in Friday’s Santa Monica Mirror was: “The City Council gave final approval to an ordinance banning the larger, faster ‘Category C and D’ jet aircraft from Santa Monica Airport (SMO), thereby setting the stage for what committee members expect to be protracted litigation between the city and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) over enforcement of that ordinance.

“And a further fight with the FAA may be looming down the road, as the FAA administrator out from Washington, D.C. said that the agency would do all in its power to force the city to continue operating SMO beyond the 2015 expiration of the current agreement between the FAA and the city.”

It very much interests me the similarities between Southern California coastal communities and East Hampton and to some extent Southampton, too. I have had the good fortune this year and in February 2007 to spend some time in SoCal and both times there are fresh reminders of those similarities.

Santa Monica right now is, in addition to its battle with the FAA, dealing with a bustling Main Street that does not have adequate parking, restaurants that overflow and have restrictions on noise, a beachfront that is raked by erosion, especially when storms roar in off the Pacific, an overall problem with air and noise pollution at certain times of the year, and a budget that’s hurting because of the pause in the real estate book the area has enjoyed for a long time.

The area is experiencing the uneasy relationship between economic independence and the tourism that access to the ocean brings, and a shortage of labor that would worsen if there were not enough Hispanic immigrants to fill the jobs, especially in the service industry.

While having breakfast in an eatery off Main Street Friday morning, I overheard a woman say, “I’m a native here, and when I was growing up, this place was nothing like this.” I felt as if I was having breakfast in the Fairway or Salivar’s.

Another article to me showed there is a good bit of East Hampton in a still relatively small municipality like Santa Monica. “Latest Tree Update,” it was headlined, and it was about the Treesavers, an ad hoc group that was tussling with the city over its plan to remove 23 trees cited as damaged or diseased. As many of you know, people in the Village of East Hampton don’t like anyone messing with their old trees, especially those along Main Street.

And of course, there is the celebrity factor. During the summer, especially, we are crawling with well-known big-screen and small-screen stars and fashionistas, ?some of whom are residents and the rest are visiting.

Well, someone in Santa Monica can hit Hollywood with a well-thrown Oscar statuette. Not in many communities will the local newspaper start off a story this way: “The Natural Resources Defense Council, joined by 10 other groups, has called on the State Senate to conduct oversight hearings to address Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s decision not to renew the terms of Santa Monica City Council member Bobby Shriver and Clint Eastwood as chairman and vice chairman, respectively, of the California State Park and Recreation Commission.” Wow, it’s Terminator against Dirty Harry—who needs a movie screen! (Also, is Arnold kind of firing one of his in-laws?)

One of the stops up the coast over the weekend was San Clemente, which has a very Montauk-in-July feel because of the surfers in the water, the small shops along the main drag, the seafood eateries, and the bars right off the beach. For better or worse, another connection is Richard Nixon.

Readers as long in the tooth as I will remember that, from 1969 through August 9, 1974, when he resigned, Nixon’s home in San Clemente was known as the Western White House. Not as well known but understandable is that Nixon had a particular affinity for Montauk.

In one of the local obituaries last October for Nick Monte, it was noted that he managed to persuade Nixon to come east for stays at Gurney’s Inn four times. However, it doesn’t seem that Nixon needed much persuading.

In the summer of 1968, the former vice president was nominated by the Republican Party to run for president, as he had (unsuccessfully) in 1960. (Hey, history buffs: Was this the longest interval between the same candidate running for president and losing and running again and winning?) To craft his acceptance speech, Nixon holed up in Montauk, of all places.

It turned out to be an impressive speech and gave him momentum out of the gate in what turned out to be a very tough campaign against the incumbent vice president, Hubert Humphrey.

During the years after a disgraced Nixon resigned the presidency, he made several more trips to Montauk, which apparently provided some comfort. The TV show host Dick Cavett, who has long had a house in Montauk, tells a story of having lunch at Gosman’s and Roberta Gosman asking him if he had noticed the restaurant’s star diner.

To quote Mr. Cavett, “The pair: an older man and a nice-looking younger dark-haired woman. He was hatless and somewhat eccentrically—considering the clear and golden weather—enveloped in a black raincoat. He resembled an old sea bird of the kind one finds wounded on a beach, peering out at the horizon and awaiting life’s terminus.

“I shall not protract the suspense. It was the deposed Richard M. Nixon. With him was Julie, the more Cordelia-like daughter who had stood by her luckless dad to the bitter end.”

Well, not too luckless. He was, after all, in Montauk. I felt as blessed to be in San Clemente, and then soon to be heading home.

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