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Santa Monica Prepares for New Hearing on Airport’s Future

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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 Jason Islas
Lookout reporter

March 24, 2014 -- Activists have sounded the call for opponents of Santa Monica Airport to turn out in force Tuesday for a “landmark” City Council meeting on the future of the century-old airfield.

At Tuesday’s meeting -- the first public hearing on the airport’s future after a federal judge last month tossed a lawsuit that officials hoped would allow them to close the City-owned airport as early as 2015 -- the Council will vote on whether to begin plans to close about 2,000 feet of the runway and phase out flight schools.

While City officials maintain the plan to close the western-most 35 acres of the 227-acre City-owned parcel will meet fewer legal obstacles than the City’s recent failed lawsuit against the FAA, airport opponents are anticipating a fight.

“National as well as local aviation organizations and advocates will be arguing for the status quo,” Martin Rubin, founder of Concerned Residents Against Airport Pollution (CRAAP), wrote in an email Friday.

“The local community MUST turn out in force to let the Council know what residents want,” he wrote.

A shorter runway would make the airport unusable for jets, which anti-airport advocates say are major polluters and pose tremendous safety risks.

Airport2Park, a local organization devoted to converting the 227-acre parcel currently occupied by the airport into a park, applauded the City’s proposal.

“We at Airport2Park applaud the fact that city staffers are recommending that in 2015 Santa Monica reclaim the 35-acre ‘Western Parcel’ of the airport,” said Airport2Park spokesman Gavin Scott. “It’s a smart move because that land isn’t tangled up the City’s current litigation with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).”

The City lost the most recent battle in its ongoing war with the FAA after a federal judge tossed a suit Santa Monica had filed in November to assert its claim over the parcel of City-owned land on which the airport sits. (“Judge Tosses Santa Monica Lawsuit Against FAA,” February 14, 2014)

City officials claimed that when Santa Monica’s 1984 agreement with the FAA expires on July 1, 2015, the City no longer has to operate its land as an airport.

The FAA has argued that the City actually has to operate the land as an airport forever due to legal obligations Santa Monica took on in the “Instrument of Transfer” document when the City regained control of the airport from the federal government shortly after World War Two.

Closing the western parcel of the runway could be a way of circumnavigating the FAA’s claim, staff said.

“This approach should nullify the legal argument that the Instrument of Transfer requires the City to operate the Airport in perpetuity because the Western Parcel is not covered by the Instrument of Transfer,” staff said.

“However, the FAA takes the position that if any part of an Airport is federally obligated, the obligations extend to the entire airport,” they said.

If the strategy is successful, opponents said, it could lead to even bigger changes at the property.

“We very much look forward to working with the City’s planners to convert the Western Parcel into the kind of green space we’re all hoping for, with the ultimate goal of turning the rest of the runway (now a mile of sterile asphalt!) into a great park,” Scott said.

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