On November 9th, the San Fernando Sun reported on two events involving Whiteman Airport in the days prior: a small protest and a related LA County Board of Supervisors motion. The brief article was split between the two events, inviting follow-up.
Early on November 6th, Councilwoman Monica Rodriguez personally joined about a dozen associates of the nonprofit Pacoima Beautiful beside the intersection of Osborne Street and San Fernando Road in Pacoima to deride Whiteman Airport and the emergency responders, educators and others working there.
Rodriguez reiterated her calls for airport closure, brushing off the widespread support Whiteman Airport has received in public meetings and on social media as well as its unanimous approval among local neighborhood councils. Public reaction on Instagram to Rodriguez’ speech reinforced this support for Whiteman while questioning the councilwoman’s motives.
While supposedly decrying lead pollution, Rodriguez and Pacoima Beautiful ignored a 2022 study by the South Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD) which documented ambient lead locally. The SCAQMD test found its highest readings near Interstate 5 while the area around Whiteman Airport was “more than 10 times” cleaner than national standards require.
Two speakers raised Reid-Hillview Airport in San Jose, California to baselessly assert leaded fuel had caused elevated blood lead levels nearby and speculated the same had occurred in Pacoima.
Reid-Hillview, a Bay Area airport broadly similar to Whiteman, became a talking point for anti-airport groups after spurious fearmongering targeted Reid-Hillview in recent years. In reality, environmental authorities conducted more than 4 years of air quality and soil testing which found Reid-Hillview had lead levels cleaner than national standards require–as is the case at Whiteman.
A further analysis of Reid-Hillview’s surroundings noted prevalent lead exposure sources, such as leaded paint and piping in residences as well as pesticidal lead arsenate in the soil, which explained conditions in San Jose more compellingly than the inconsistent, often contradictory, attacks against Reid-Hillview.
Pacoima, built atop farmland and still containing similar lead sources, can learn from Reid-Hillview…though not as anti-Whiteman voices had intended.
Because the Board of Supervisors’ November 7th motion stipulates lead testing centered at Whiteman rather than in its vicinity, tests conducted may miss other lead sources or their effects and yield inaccurate data.
Although lead was the focus of the protest, other matters came up. Ironically, Monica Rodriguez complained about airport noise after a passing Metrolink train drowned out her speech while an airplane taking off moments earlier caused her no interference. That disparity validated complaints from residents who directed their frustrations about noise at railroad traffic while confirming 2022 tests which found Whiteman Airport’s noise virtually contained within airport property.
Additionally, when speaking about ‘air quality mitigation,’ Rodriguez referred to SoCalGas’ 2015 Aliso Canyon spill near Porter Ranch–apparently oblivious that Pacoima Beautiful had opposed mitigation there in 2016, advocating for operations to resume despite residents’ pleas for a shutdown.
Incidentally, a 2020 LA Times report revealed Pacoima Beautiful received $107,750 from SoCalGas between 2014 and 2018. In that article, Pacoima Beautiful director Veronica Padilla-Campos freely acknowledged she was “doing [SoCalGas’] bidding” by lobbying officials to reopen the Aliso Canyon facility.
Pacoima Beautiful’s Aliso Canyon advocacy and Rodriguez’ ongoing failure to protect Sylmar residents from the hazards of an illegal, squalid RV park inspire grave doubts in their commitment to public safety…particularly as the two fight to evict emergency responders from Whiteman.
The San Fernando Sun’s November 9th article was vague about what closure would mean for Whiteman’s land. This is no mystery, as its March 8th coverage explained:
“If the airport is closed, Pacoima Beautiful and Padilla-Campos have proposed that the space could be used for mixed-income housing, retail and public service agencies among other entities.”
Intensive land development has always been what motivates anti-airport voices like Pacoima Beautiful and Monica Rodriguez. Development is their agenda, no matter how unpopular it is.
Matthew Stone is a licensed pilot who has flown from Whiteman Airport extensively but has no professional or institutional affiliation with the airport.