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Santa Monica Airport Foes File Second Lawsuit

Phil Brock For Council 2014

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Michael Feinstein for Santa Monica City Council 2014Harding Larmore Kutcher & Kozal, LLP  law firm
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By Daniel Larios
Staff Writer

August 19, 2014 – Eight anti-airport activists filed a second lawsuit Friday in an effort to ground a ballot measure that would require voters to approve any change of use at Santa Monica’s century-old airport.

The lawsuit alleges that the City Attorney’s impartial analysis is favorable to the measure, that both the analysis and measure are misleading and that the measure itself is unconstitutional.
It is the second time airport foes file a lawsuit trying to bar the initiative backed by the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA). The first, filed in May, is set to appear before a judge on August 26.

“Under Elections Code §9295, any Santa Monica voter may petition for writ of mandate or injunction to ‘amend or delete’ ballot materials, including the City Attorney Impartial Analysis prepared pursuant to Election Code §9280,” the lawsuit reads.  “Petitioners are all Santa Monica voters.”

The hearing for the suit is scheduled for Friday morning. 

Defendants include LA County Clerk Dean Logan, Santa Monica City Clerk Sarah Gorman, the City Attorney Marsha Moutrie, the City Council and those who filed the ballot petition – Lauren McCollum, Nikos Kokotakis and Flora Lin.

Attorney Jonathan Stein, who heads the Sunset Park Anti-Airport, Inc. (SPAA), states in the lawsuit that Moutrie failed to include the fact that the measure originated from an initiative petition process, which he says “is important to prevent voter confusion for two reasons.”

“First, the City Council put a competing ballot measure on the same November 2014 ballot,” Stein writes in the suit. “The City Attorney does fulfill the statutory requirement when analyzing the City-sponsored Competing Ballot Measure, stating ‘this measure, placed on the ballot by the City Council.’”

“And second, during the signature gathering campaign to qualify the AOPA Ballot Measure, signature gatherers made repeated misrepresentations that AOPA Ballot Measure was in fact sponsored by the City,” he added. “Dozens of the misrepresentations were caught by volunteers monitoring the signature gathering process.

“That ‘word of mouth’ has circulated broadly in the community and increases voter confusion.”

The lawsuit also alleges that the measure’s voting requirement for any change to airport land as described by the Impartial Analysis is a “cover-up of the violently anti-democratic aspect” of the AOPA-backed measure, stating that the original measure requires a majority of total registered voters, rather than a majority of voters who show up to the polls.

“[It] re-writes the AOPA Ballot Measure language,” claims Stein in the suit. “It implants new and different words, ‘a simple majority of those actually voting,’ in place of the actual language of the AOPA Ballot Measure, ‘majority of the voters of the City.’” 

Stein believes that if the measure passes, this gives pro-airport activists a loophole for any voter-approved decisions on airport land.

“Given the 63,000 registered voters in Santa Monica, over 31,500 would have to vote ‘yes’ in a future ballot measure to change the status quo at the Airport,” he added.  “That has happened only once in eleven Santa Monica ballot measures since 2002.”

The City Attorney’s office could not comment on pending litigation.

The ballot battle was sparked when the City Council unanimously voted on March 25 to take steps to shut down airport when the City’s agreement with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) expires next year.

Two days later, supporters of the century-old airfield filed paperwork with the City Clerk's office to place an initiative on the November ballot.

On May 13, the City Council voted unanimously to combat the ballot initiative drive with a ballot measure of its own.  The measure council directed staff to draft 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.” 

In June, airport supporters submitted approximately 15,704 signatures to the City Clerk’s Office, qualifying for the ballot in November.

Stein concludes the suit by noting how divisive the airport issue is.

“Emotions run deep, and set neighbor against neighbor,” he writes. “Both pro- and anti-Airport groups feel they are defending an irreplaceable part of their lives.

“Anti-Airport activists feel they are defending their homes, families, and especially children.  They are forced to breathe leaded molecules known to cause brain development problems, and ultrafine particulates known to cause cancer in later life. 

“Pro-Airport groups feel they are defending one aspect of personal freedom which America promises.”

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