On April 20, the San Fernando Valley Sun/el Sol posted an initial report regarding the unfortunate aircraft mishap near the 210 freeway in Sylmar. Due to the rapidness of the Sun’s report, little background information and few reactions were included.
Sickeningly, only a few hours after the tragedy, avowed Whiteman Airport opponents LA Councilmember Monica Rodriguez and Pacoima Beautiful rushed to politicize matters by blaming the nearby airport for the day’s sorrow. Public reaction on social media to their comments was decidedly negative, with the campaign of Rodriguez’ challenger Elisa Avalos lambasting the incumbent for her comments.
Rodriguez’ statement, published online, pushed for an “immediate closure” of the airport and an investigation of operations there. Rodriguez, evidently eager to make these hasty mandates, admitted even she wasn’t certain Whiteman had any relation to the event as she attacked the airport.
Pacoima Beautiful representative Teodora Reyes spoke to CBS News’ Joy Benedict, laying out the group’s grievances against Whiteman. Reyes made false, wildly inaccurate claims about the airport’s history. Although Sylmar was the day’s focal point, Reyes only made a passing mention of events there. CBS included Reyes’ monotone condolences to the pilot’s family in concluding their report.
On April 21, Pacoima Beautiful posted a written statement online with the baseless, vague allegation that “something is wrong at Whiteman Airport.”
Pacoima Beautiful insinuated that the Los Angeles County government, which owns the airport, has not taken public safety seriously and proclaimed a shutdown of the airport as the only recourse. The ongoing Whiteman Airport Community Advisory Committee (CAC)’s public safety consideration work was not mentioned nor that Pacoima Beautiful has three seats on that panel — more than any other interest group, including the airport itself.
Despite their questioning of others’ dedication to public safety, Pacoima Beautiful has never lauded their opposition to improvements at Whiteman. In a Nov. 20, 2020 Daily News article, Pacoima Beautiful Executive Director Veronica Padilla stated her group had obstructed changes at the airport more than a decade before and boasted it’d been “the easiest campaign they’d ever done.”
The safety improvements Pacoima Beautiful fought against years ago were collectively known as “Airside Alternative 3” in the Whiteman Airport Master Plan of 2011 (which can be found online). The changes proposed specified the establishment of “runway protection zones” with cleared areas on each end of the runway.
This plan was listed as the best option for safety and was expected to be implemented around 2019 if “green-lit”…but it never got that far.
Pacoima Beautiful has relentlessly cited the 2020 and 2022 mishaps near the airport as justifications to close Whiteman. Despite ample opportunity, the group has never acknowledged those events occurred in extremely close proximity to the safety zones’ proposed locations.
Pacoima Beautiful made much of the 2020 spectacle on Sutter…yet never mentioned the airport had hoped to begin work on a clearing in that exact spot in 2019.
The people of the community deserve to know this history. They deserve to hear the full truth.
The next time airport opponents speak, I hope they will finally come clean: Whiteman Airport did look to enhance safety years ago…only for Pacoima Beautiful to fight against improvements.
The writer is a licensed pilot who has flown from Whiteman Airport extensively, but has no professional or institutional affiliation with the airport.