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Aviation Advocacy Groups File Brief in Santa Monica Lawsuit

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By Jonathan Friedman
Associate Editor

January 27, 2015 -- In a move that should come as no surprise, two major aviation advocacy groups recently filed an amicus brief to support the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in the latest legal challenge by the City of Santa Monica about the future of the local airport.

The federal lawsuit filed in 2013 claims that when the 1984 agreement between the City and the FAA expires on July 1 of this year, Santa Monica no longer has to operate the municipal-owned, 227-acre property as an airport.

Judge John F. Walter dismissed the suit in February 2014, and the City filed a notice of appeal two months later.

Aviation advocacy groups Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) and National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) filed the amicus brief on Jan. 22, according to an article posted on AOPA’s website. They also filed an amicus brief when the suit was first filed.

“The brief argues that the City’s claims have no merit to overcome the requirement to keep Santa Monica Airport as a functioning airport,” states the article by Elizabeth A Tennyson, AOPA’s director of government affairs and executive communications.

The brief, she wrote, also states “that the issues in the case have potentially far-reaching consequences that warrant the court’s consideration in deciding the City’s appeal.”

While the FAA and Santa Monica Airport advocates hailed the February 2014 decision as a victory, opponents said it was only a technical win and that the real issues have not been determined in court.

“Judge Walter made it quite clear that he was not ruling on the merits of the City’s claim to control the land after expiration of the 1984 Settlement Agreement,” wrote former Lookout columnist Frank Gruber in a letter to the Lookout last year.

He continued, “The City has not lost its right to challenge the federal government’s claims to control the use of the airport land.”

Anti-airport activists are feeling good following the wide-margin defeat in November of an AOPA/NBAA-sponsored ballot measure that would have severely limited the City’s control of the controversial property.

In that same election, a rival measure sponsored by the City won by a wide margin.

One week after the election, Airport2Park, which wants the property transformed into a park, issued a statement saying it was time to begin preparing for the transition.

The group claimed the election results gave “the Santa Monica City Council a mandate to continue its efforts to close the airport” when the 1984 agreement expires this summer.

Others disagreed with this claim, including the Santa Monica Airport Association, whose president Bill Worden told the Lookout that with “vigilance and protection,” the airport can “remain with us for another century.”

While there is disagreement over what the future of Santa Monica Airport should be and will be, most agree that the final destiny will not be reached easily. 

City Attorney Marsha Moutrie voiced this common opinion at an August 2014 council meeting.

“This is not a situation where the federal government will easily let go of its hold on this land, and anyone who thinks that,” Moutrie added, “is naïve.”

She said that the status of the airport “will take years to sort out.”

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