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Santa Monica Airport Foe Fights Legal Setback

Phil Brock For Council 2014

Santa Monica Real Estate Company, Roque and Mark

Michael Feinstein for Santa Monica City Council 2014Harding Larmore Kutcher & Kozal, LLP  law firm
Harding, Larmore Kutcher & Kozal, LLP

Pacific Park, Santa Monica Pier

Santa Monica Convention and Visitors BureauWhen one lives in a city as breathtakingly beautiful and unique as Santa Monica, inevitably that city will be shared with visitors.

By Jonathan Friedman
Associate Editor

August 22, 2014 -- A Los Angeles Superior Court judge issued a decision Tuesday that will keep a measure backed by aviation interests on the November ballot. But the attorney for a faction of the anti-Santa Monica Airport movement that filed a lawsuit to remove the measure is not waving the white flag.

Attorney Jonathan Stein told The Lookout he plans to appeal Judge Luis A. Lavin’s decision and will pursue a related suit filed earlier this month (“Santa Monica Airport Foes File Second Lawsuit,” August 19, 2014).

Lavin rejected Stein’s arguments that City officials had acted improperly in placing Measure D on the ballot and that City Attorney Marsha Moutrie had failed to write a proper title and summary of the measure.

Backed by the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA), Measure D calls for a requirement of voter approval to make most changes at the 227-acre airport property, including closing the aviation facility. It qualified for the ballot after 9,800 signatures were collected from registered voters (“Pro-Airport Initiative Qualifies, Sets up Ballot Measure Duel,” July 18, 2014).

Proponents say the measure would allow Santa Monica residents to have a say on the future of an important property that could be developed if the airport closes. Opponents say Measure D is a scheme to keep the airport open indefinitely.

The City has placed the rival Measure LC on the ballot (“Santa Monica Voters to Choose Between Competing Airport Ballot Measures,” July 24, 2014).
Lavin wrote in his decision, “There is … no legal basis to require the City attorney at this early stage of the initiative process to delay the initiative process while claims of [Measure D's] invalidity are determined.”

The judge also rejected Stein’s argument that the measure would actually require a majority of registered Santa Monica voters to approve closure for it to happen, rather than just a majority of those voting in an election in which the proposal were on the ballot. This has been a hotly contested issue (“Airport Rivals Debate Meaning of Voter Approval,” August 20, 2014).

In addition, Lavin rejected an accusation by Stein (also made by other anti-airport activists not associated with his faction) that signatures to get the measure on the ballot were collected through deceptive tactics.

“There is no evidence that the proposed circulated petition contained false statements intended to mislead voters and induce them to sign the petition,” Lavin wrote.

Stein said his defeat was mostly on “technical grounds,” and he hopes to get the decision reversed on appeal. He acknowledged the appeal would not be heard before Election Day. Attempting to secure an expedited hearing is possible, but Stein said he would not do this.

The attorney also told The Lookout the second suit his group filed “will get more specific issues heard.”

Attorney and Measure D supporter David Shaby had a different take on the situation.

"Today’s decision is just the first step in restoring the voice of the voters," he said in a statement. "The next step will be passing Measure D, which gives voters the final voice on whether City Council development schemes for 227 acres of land will move forward or not."

Although Stein’s faction and other anti-airport activists, including members of the City Council, have a common goal of airport closure, or at least defeating Measure D, they are often not on the same page.

Stein has said at recent council meetings that City staff work in favor of aviation interests, which is an accusation not supported (at least openly) by those not in his faction. Also, his suits are not supported by other anti-airport activists. After the first suit was filed, the City countered with a strategic lawsuit against public participation (SLAPP) motion to get it dismissed, which is what Lavin approved with his ruling.

In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, Deputy City Attorney Ivan Campbell called the suit “misguided and an unnecessary distraction" as well as “a needless waste of public resources and time."

Stein told The Lookout that Campbell’s comment was made because his office “is on the side of AOPA.”

“AOPA is a special interest that will spend half a million dollars trying to put through a deceptive petition,” said Stein, who added that several methods should be used to defeat Measure D, including legal action.

Santa Monicans for Open and Honest Development Decisions, the committee formed to support Measure D, had raised more than $260,000 as of last month ("Airport Supporters Raise Over $260,000 for Ballot Battle," July 29, 2014). The leading opposition group called Committee for Local Control of Santa Monica Airport Land has not collected any reported money. The group hosted its first official event on Wednesday.

Stein said it is unlikely the opposition group will be able to defeat the proponents in the fundraising battle, making an election victory more difficult.
“I hope residents see through [Measure D], but I’ve seen enough elections where money wins,” Stein said. “So if you can beat them in court, that’s a good idea.”

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