Santa Monica Lookout
|Santa Monica Mayor Vows More “Assertive” Role in Battle with FAA|
By Niki Cervantes
October 20, 2015 -- The City Council is readying a “new more assertive posture” in its battle over the future of the Santa Monica Airport after the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) on Friday delayed yet again a key decision on the matter, Mayor Kevin McKeown said Monday
The tough new stance – which comes after the third delay in as many months – will probably begin this week, McKeown said. In its notice to the City, agency officials extended a decision to December 4.
McKeown would not release more details, but noted that the Santa Monica Airport is one of the City’s top three new priorities. The issue, he said, “is about to heat up.”
He also said the new strategy would be implemented “very publicly.”
City officials are warring with the FAA over whether an agency grant to the City for airport improvements has expired. The City argues that the expiration date was in July, freeing it to begin taking more control of the municipally-owned property.
Opponents, including aviation-related organizations that don’t want the airport altered, argue the expiration date is not until 2023.
McKeown has been increasingly critical of the delays since the first one was issued on August 15. But now, he said, the City is stepping up its game.
“We had a closed session meeting with our national aviation attorneys at our last meeting,” McKeown said, “and have an airport action item regarding emissions on our October 27th agenda.”
He said he was also on a conference call last week to discuss the problem with Congressman Ted Lieu, whose 33rd Congressional District includes Santa Monica, and that the City continues to get “great support” from him.
“Santa Monicans are confronted with a federal agency that is refusing to do the work American taxpayers expect,” McKeown said.
“Our Congressman Ted Lieu is doing everything he can to assist, but the FAA is immovable, and, frankly, arrogant, in telling Westside residents concerned about their families’ health and safety that bureaucrats are just too unmotivated to provide a timely answer,” he said.
“As I told the FAA in July when I visited DC, we will not be denied, we will not stop, and we truly believe that ultimately, we will prevail.”
A representative of the FAA who deals with the issue was not immediately available for comment, said Ian Gregor, the agency's public affairs manager for the Pacific Division.
At the heart of the matter is an FAA administrative action brought by several airport businesses and airplane owners -- including actor Harrison Ford -- that tries to preserve airport operations by citing a 1994 agreement between the City and the FAA.
The agreement was meant to expire in 2014, but when the agency's grant to the City increased by about $250,000 in 2003, opponents argue, the City became obligated to run the airport another 20 years, or until 2023.
City officials say nothing else in the agreement changed, so the expiration date should remain the same. They want the FAA to rule on the challenge by aviators, and appear to be more aggravated than ever by the agency’s series of delays. None of the delays have included a specific reason to postpone a decision.
“There is a process for resolving such disputes, but the first step is an administrative action that takes place within the FAA itself,” McKeown said. “The FAA should have responded so we could move forward many months ago.”
McKeown, several Council members and others have already met face-to-face with agency officials in Washington D.C., although there were questions about how receptive the FAA was at the session. Lieu has also lobbied on the City’s behalf.
FAA action is needed for the City to put Measure LC into action. The measure, overwhelmingly passed by voters last November, put many airport decisions in the hands of the council. It also gave local voters a voice on the airport’s future, and on the general concept of what could be built on airport property if it were fully or partially close.
Residents of nearby neighborhoods have engaged in a long battle to close the municipal airport, claiming it is too close to homes to be safe and causes noise, pollution and other problems.
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