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FAA Must Respond to Santa Monica Airport Lawsuit Next Week, Court Says

Santa Monica Real Estate Company, Roque and Mark

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Harding, Larmore Kutcher & Kozal, LLP

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By Jason Islas
Staff Writer

January 3, 2014 -- The fight over the future of Santa Monica Airport continues after a federal judge told the Federal Aviation Administration to respond to the City’s lawsuit next week.

Judge John F. Walter denied the FAA’s request for an additional 44 days -- on top of the 60-day period that expired December 30 -- to respond to a lawsuit filed by City officials in November that claims Santa Monica has the right to close down at least part of the 227-acre parcel that has operated as an airport for nearly a century.

The ruling, issued last month, says that the FAA had “failed to demonstrate good cause for the requested extension,” especially given the “time-sensitive nature of this action.”

While the FAA did not get the 44 day extension it wanted, Santa Monica agreed that, because of the holiday season, the FAA could have until January 10 to respond to the claim.

Santa Monica’s claim, filed in federal court on November 1, asserts that when the City’s 1984 agreement with the FAA expires in 2015, Santa Monica is no longer obligated to operate the land as an airport. (“City Hall Sues FAA Over Future of Santa Monica Airport,” November 1)

The FAA has argued that Santa Monica is required to operate the airport “in perpetuity.”

FAA officials told The Lookout Thursday that they had no comment about Walter’s ruling.

On January 10, City officials expect the battle to heat up.

“(W)e expect that the federal government will not file an ‘answer’ to the complaint,” City Attorney Marsha Moutrie told The Lookout Thursday. 

“Instead, we think they will move to dismiss the complaint,” she said.

The FAA declined to comment directly on the Moutrie’s prediction. Instead, officials said simply that they “will respond to the complaint by the deadline” next Friday.

This lawsuit is only the most recent battle between the City and the FAA in an ongoing war over the future of airport which dates back to World War II when Santa Monica temporarily leased the airport to the federal government.

Shortly after the War, the federal government transferred the property back to the City.

The FAA has argued that legal obligations imbedded in the transfers require Santa Monica to operate the parcel as an airport forever.

However, over the decades, local opposition to the airport has grown as resident groups coalesced around protesting what they say is a harmful and unsafe use of land.

City Hall has fought for various limits on operations at the airport and even unsuccessfully tried to ban jets from using the runway. (“City Prepares to Respond to FAA,” June 5, 2008)

Most recently, anti-airport advocates have rallied around the idea of turning the parcel into a public park if the City triumphs in its lawsuit.

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