Santa Monica Lookout
|Santa Monica Airport Case Gets Hearing Friday||
By Hector Gonzalez
March 11, 2016 -- Santa Monica's attorney Friday will argue before a three-judge panel why a district court judge made an error in siding with the federal government's continuing claim over Santa Monica Airport property.
Arguing before the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in Pasadena, Attorney Deanne E. Maynard, representing the City, will appeal U.S. District Court Judge John Walter's 2014 ruling dismissing Santa Monica's lawsuit against the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) (“Judge Tosses Santa Monica Lawsuit Against FAA,” February 14, 2014).
The City's suit seeks to establish control over the airport property through the Quiet Title Act, a legal action meant to establish clear ownership of a property.
Santa Monica has claimed the federal government relinquished its interests in the airport when it transferred what was then leftover World War II property, including airfields and buildings, to Santa Monica in 1948.
Walter ruled in favor of the FAA's position that Santa Monica lost the right to claim the Quiet Title Act, which has a 12-year statute of limitations, and also “that the city should have known” that time had run out to sue.
“The court concludes that the record unquestioningly demonstrates that the City knew, or should have known, that the United States claimed an interest in the airport property as early as 1948,” Walter wrote in his ruling.
The judge cited the original transfer document in which the City signed off in writing that the property should keep operating as an airport and that “no property transferred by this instrument shall be used, leased, sold, salvaged, or disposed of” by the City “for other than airport purposes,” without FAA approval.
Walter ruled that both the City and the FAA repeatedly referred back to that original document whenever various issues concerning the airport came up between the two parties over the years.
Santa Monica has argued that its obligation to operate the property as an airport ended when the terms of the 1948 agreement expired.
The City has cited a 1971 letter from the FAA to the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association saying that “Santa Monica Airport is vulnerable to being discontinued and its land used for non-airport purposes,” according to the lawsuit.
But that statement can't be legally interpreted to mean that the FAA was giving up its interest in maintaining the airport as an airport, Walter wrote.
Santa Monica also claims that a 1984 settlement agreement worked out
with the FAA to deal with residents' complaints about noise from the airport
“required the City to operate Santa Monica Airport as an airport
'only' until July, 1, 2015.”
Finally, Santa Monica's suit claims that a threat exists that the federal government will seize ownership of the property if the City ceases operating it as an airport.
Walter ruled that it was premature to claim this, since the government hasn't indicated it intends to do so.
On Friday, the Pasadena court will hear the City's arguments but will not make a decision. It normally takes several weeks, sometimes months, before the court issues a ruling.
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