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Santa Monica Airport Activists Attempt to Ground Lawsuit

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By Daniel Larios
Staff Writer

June 17, 2014 – Santa Monica Airport supporters filed a motion to dismiss a lawsuit filed against a proposed initiative that would make it more difficult to shut down the century-old airfield.

Santa Monicans for Open and Honest Development Decisions (SMOHDD) filed a motion Friday to suppress a Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation (SLAPP) filed in May on behalf of 11 Santa Monica residents that would block the measure from the ballot.

Airport supporters claim that the lawsuit filed by attorney Jonathan Stein
against the proposed initiative – which would amend the Santa Monica City charter to require voter approval for changes made to Airport land – lacks merit. (“Opposition Mounts to Santa Monica Airport Ballot Initiative,” May 19, 2014)

“Mr. Stein and the SLAPP litigants threw in everything they could think of and ended up with nothing but meritless claims,” said Stuart Leviton, the attorney who filed the anti-SLAPP motion.

“But they also made baseless claims that three citizens of Santa Monica who were brave enough to speak on a public issue had committed criminal acts,” Leviton said

The lawsuit named Flora Yin, Nikos Kokotakis and Lauren McCollum, the three Santa Monica residents who originally filed for the initiative petition, as “real parties in interest.”

According to the lawsuit, the proposed initiative contains numerous misleading statements, was not vetted properly by City officials and violates the state Constitution and elections code.

“The SLAPP suit is an outrageous smear against the reputations of three individuals who have the right to participate in the political process, even if Mr. Stein doesn’t like it,” Leviton added. 

The lawsuit also named the City Council, City Clerk, and City Attorney as defendants, alleging that the measure was not vetted properly by City officials.

“Suing the City just adds to a long and costly history of lawsuits that needs to stop,” said SMOHDD board member John Jerabek. “The City has wasted millions on lawsuits, and Stein and the SLAPP litigants are just hitting taxpayers with more legal bills.”

In addition to throwing out the lawsuit, the motion filed Friday would also recover legal fees and costs from the 11 plaintiffs represented by Stein.

“It’s an abuse of the SLAPP statute,” Stein told The Lookout.  “It’s a desperate measure and the City really did nine-tenths of the work for them.”

Airport supporters are also alleging that anti-airport activists have harassed and intimidated potential signers of the petition.

Opponents denied the allegation and noted that the proposed initiative’s main sponsor is the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA).

“We don’t get how they’re saying that activists and volunteers are harassing this big special interest group through their use of the first amendment,” Stein told The Lookout.

Opponents of the proposed initiative say their efforts to stop paid signature gatherers from collecting signatures included talking with potential signers and passing out leaflets explaining the issue and their opposition.

Last week, 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 City Council has the discretion to place the measure, if it qualifies, on the November ballot or call for a special election, according to the City Clerk.

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 ballot battle was sparked when the City Council unanimously voted on March 25 to take steps to shut down the 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.

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