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Convention and Visitors Bureau Santa Monica

By Hector Gonzalez
Special to The Lookout

December 7, 2015 -- Frustrated elected officials reacted angrily to a Federal Aviation Administration(FAA), decision that Santa Monica Airport must continue to operate as a commercial aviation facility for the next eight years.

City officials vowed to continue their battle to take immediate control of the 227-acre airport based on the City's original deal with the federal government, made during the urgency of World War II, that the rights to the land would relinquish to Santa Monica in June 2014.

The FAA's determination says federal grants the City accepted in 2003 obligate it to maintain the airport open until August 27, 2023, for the pilots and aviation businesses that use the facility.

About 270 aircraft are based at the airport, with about 95,100 landings and take-offs annually.

Santa Monica Mayor Kevin McKeown got the news of the FAA's ruling Friday while attending the global climate summit in Paris.

“Unending bureaucratic review is no answer to Santa Monica’s immediate safety and pollution concerns regarding the airport and the land we own,” said McKeown.

Hundreds of residents have long complained about airport jet noise and pollution, which they blame for causing health problems, and the City over the years has responded by passing increasingly restrictive ordinances.

In October, the Council enacted strict new anti-pollution rules for the airport, imposing a total cap on all pollutants generated at the airport, not just emissions, and ordered staff to begin moving toward restricting aviation to daylight hours.

The Council also approved giving the City control of selling fuel, ending third-party involvement ("City Council Cracks Down on Santa Monica Airport Pollution," October 29, 2015).

The FAA ruling came after the National Business Aircraft Association claimed the 2003 grants triggered a new time period for the airport to return to City control, extending the City's obligation beyond 20 years.

The FAA sided with that claim, contradicting the legal opinion of U.S. Rep. Ted Lieu, D-Manhattan Beach, a former Air Force Reserves JAG prosecutor.

In August Lieu joined fellow Rep. Karen Bass, D-Los Angeles, in calling on the FAA to rule in the City's favor on the grant matter.

“We cannot imagine a scenario where the FAA would be legally justified to rule against the City in this grant matter, and we hope you will issue a prompt decision,” the two representatives wrote to FAA Administrator Michael P. Huerta ("Lieu Urges Prompt FAA Action On Santa Monica Airport," August 5, 2015).

McKeown accused the FAA of using “red tape” to thwart residents' demands that the airport should be under local control.

“The FAA cannot hide, in a tangle of red tape, the simple truth that Santa Monicans have voted to take control of our airport land, and we will not be stopped,” said McKeown, referring to a successful 2015 ballot measure.

“It is highly unfortunate, though hardly surprising given its past actions, that yet again the FAA favors aviation interests to the detriment of the health and safety of the families that live near the airport.”

Newly appointed Senior Advisor for Airport Affairs Nelson Hernandez said the City will continue to take any legal steps it can to stem noise and pollution at the airport.

“The FAA's decision is inconsistent with best grant management practices,” said Hernandez. “In the meantime, we will continue to take every action necessary to promote the health and safety of our residents.”

After the fourth extension the FAA filed in October, the City, as well as Lieu and Bass, had been demanding the FAA expedite the release of their decision.

“The decision from the FAA is no surprise, particularly since the FAA gets to be essentially its own judge and jury,” said Santa Monica City Attorney Marsha Moutrie. “Once we have had time to carefully review the director’s determination, we will make recommendations to the City Council.

“This decision is not yet final,” said Mourtrie. “There are two more levels of appeal within the FAA, followed by judicial review in the federal court of appeals.”

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