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Santa Monica Airport Proponents Gain Star Power in Complaint

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Harding, Larmore Kutcher & Kozal, LLP

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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 Daniel Larios
Staff Writer

July 4, 2014 – Santa Monica Airport tenants, along with national aviation advocacy groups, were joined in a federal complaint filed Wednesday against the City by none other than Han Solo himself, Harrison Ford.

The formal complaint filed with the Federal Aviation Association (FAA) disputes the City’s claim that the airport can be shut down in 2015. The suit comes eight months after the City unsuccessfully sued the FAA to establish local control of the airport.

In the complaint, tenants allege the City must keep the airport open until a 2003 federal airport improvement grant to the City expires in 2023. The complaint claims that the terms of the grant were extended when $240,600 were added to the $1.6-million grant in August 2003.

“Complainants request that the FAA exercise its plenary authority… to determine that the City’s Grant Assurance obligations remain binding and effective,” reads the complaint. “And that the City must continue to comply with those obligations, until no sooner than August 2023.”

"It's pretty much self-evident," Richard K. Simon, the attorney for the tenants, told The Los Angeles Times. "This is a very important issue. The City is already studying actions that would violate the grant assurances."

However, City officials insist that the terms of the federal grants give the City authority to close down the airport in 2015, since all conditions will haven been met.

Both parties will present their positions and evidence to a high-ranking FAA official, with the decision appealable in federal court.

Ford lives within 25 miles of Santa Monica, according to the complaint, and “has been an Airport tenant for ten years, basing both fixed-wing (piston and jet) and rotor aircraft in his north-side hangar.”

He has also testified before Congress as an “advocate for general aviation and regularly flies missions in support of humanitarian causes,” reads the complaint.

Advocates of shutting down the airport said the complaint did not come as a surprise.

“This isn’t unexpected,” said Frank Gruber, a representative of Airport2Park, a group that wants to build a park on airport land.  “We agree with the City’s explanation that this is not new money.”

“We’re not surprised by the motion,” he added.  “The pro airport people are desperate because they don’t believe that the FAA has the power to stop the City from closing the airport.”

Officials at the City Attorney’s office declined to comment on the complaint.

Also joining Ford and the other airport tenants in the federal complaint is the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, which has sponsored the recent petition drive to put an initiative on the ballot that would require voter approval to change the use of airport land, including closure. (“Santa Monica Airport Referendum Steeped in Controversy,” May 1, 2014)
Last month, proponents of the Airport submitted 15,734 voter signatures to the City Clerk’s office. 

To make the ballot, approximately 9,100 signatures from registered Santa Monica voters will have to be verified by the Los Angeles County Registrar’s office within 30 days of receiving them. ("Airport Advocates Submit More than 15,000 Signatures," June 11, 2014)

The Council, which opposes the measure, has directed staff to draft a rival measure that would “require voter approval for any significant change in the use of the land,” but it also “would protect the City Council’s discretion to manage the Airport.” 

The council must give final approval to the measure at its July 22 meeting for it to qualify for the November ballot. The City attorney is expected to present proposed language to the council at its meeting Tuesday.

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