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FAA Again Postpones Decision on Issue Relating to Santa Monica Airport Closure

Santa Monica Real Estate Company, Roque and Mark

Pacific Park, Santa Monica Pier

Harding Larmore Kutcher & Kozal, LLP  law firm
Harding, Larmore
Kutcher & Kozal, LLP

Convention and Visitors Bureau Santa Monica

By Niki Cervantes
Staff Writer

September 23, 2015 -- The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) on Monday again informed the City that it has delayed a decision on a crucial issue involving Santa Monica’s ongoing battle to close its municipal airport, City officials said Tuesday.

The notice comes one month after FAA officials sent a brief message stating the FAA needed until September 21 to determine whether Santa Monica can take back control of City owned airport land. Monday’s message informed the City that FAA officials now need until October 15.

Like its predecessor, the note from Randall S. Fiertz, the FAA’s head of airport compliance and management analysis, says the extension is “necessary and appropriate for a fair and complete determination in this case.”

Marcia Alexandra-Adams, a FAA spokesperson, said there would be no additional comment.

The delay prompted an irate response from Mayor Kevin McKeown, who said the City is being “stonewalled yet again” by the FAA.

“We have a conference with our national aviation legal consultants already scheduled during this latest delay,” McKeown said, “and I’m sure the FAA’s deliberate intransigence will flavor our discussions.”

At issue is an FAA administrative action brought by several airport businesses and airplane owners, including actor Harrison Ford, seeking to preserve the airport use of the City-owned land stemming from a 1994 agreement between the City and the FAA.

The agreement, which was set to expire in 2014, provided grant money to the City for airport improvements in return for assurances that the City would continue to operate the airport for another 20 years.

In 2003, the City’s grant increased by about $250,000, which aviators claim extended the City’s obligation to run the airport to 2023.

The City contends nothing else in the agreement changed, and that the expiration date remains 2014. City officials have been eagerly waiting for the FAA to rule on the challenge, which applies to the western parcel of the airport.

“The FAA has unilaterally and inexcusably given itself yet another extension to respond to our contention that Santa Monica's grant obligations are fully discharged and we can, as local voters directed with Measure LC, proceed to take control of land we undisputedly own,” McKeown said.

Measure LC was passed overwhelmingly in November, putting many airport decisions in the hands of the council.

The new law also gave local voters a say on the general concept of what could be built on the airport property if the facility were to close, either fully or partially.

The long battle to close the airport has inspired considerable litigation, including the City’s decision in 2013 to sue the FAA over control of the airport. A judge dismissed the suit, but the City is appealing in the Ninth Circuit court.

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