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Court Bid to Evict Key Aviation Tenants from Santa Monica Airport Delayed Again  

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Convention and Visitors Bureau Santa Monica

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

By Niki Cervantes
Staff Writer

January 11, 2017 -- A court bid to evict two key aviation-related tenants from Santa Monica Airport was delayed a month, City officials said Monday, prompting more frustration from groups who contend the City is moving too slowly to make good on its vow to close the facility by 2018.

At the same time, City officials also announced they would allow providing "Standstill Agreements" for 19 other subtenants at SMO.

The agreements allow the subtenants to remain at SMO through May 31, said Nelson Hernandez, the City's senior advisor to City Manager Rick Cole on airport matters.

Hernandez said the City is offering the agreements to subtenants at 3100 Donald Douglass Loop North (formerly known as the Gunnell Building) "in order to provide greater legal protection to the City, as well as operational and financial stability to the airport."

Two federal cases involving the City's move to close SMO go to trial later this year, he said, but offering the Standstill Agreements "does not materially affect our landlord rights to evict aviation users, when we prevail in federal court."

Last August, the City Council voted to close SMO by the summer of 2018, if legally possible ("Santa Monica City Council Votes to Close Airport by 2018," July 28, 2016).

It also ordered a City takeover as soon as feasible of "Fixed Based Operations," such as aircraft fueling, which is now handled by the tenants it subsequently served with eviction notices, Atlantic Aviation and American Flyer, this fall ("Major Santa Monica Airport Tenant Issued Eviction Notice," September 16, 2016).

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) intervened with a proposed stay and is also investigating the City's actions ("FAA Orders City to Temporarily Halt Santa Monica Airport Evictions," December 14, 2016).

Hernandez said the eviction case, which is in Los Angeles Superior Court downtown and has been postponed before, will now to be heard on February 3. The two companies remain in business at the airport in the interim.

The court battle already is testing the faith of community activists who question whether the City is truly intent on the airport's closure, or was talking big last summer to curry favor with voters. Four council members faced re-election in November at the time. All won easily.

Some of the harshest City critics say there is no need for a City FBO takeover at all, and that the City should concentrate on moving to close SMO without such a step.

They also are displeased with the Standstill Agreements for subtenants, who in the past conducted business with the City only indirectly under the umbrella of an overall leaseholder.

“There is no need for this," said David Goddard, a former chair of the Santa Monica Airport Commission, in an email to City officials and community members involved in the battle.

"Just like there is no need to set up an FBO (Fixed Base Operator), or hire an FBO manager, or have new state of the art security. These all point to a long term intention to run a jet port. Given that there is no agreement or court order that requires us to do any of these things, it is confounding why it is happening.”

Activists say they heard attorneys in earlier court proceedings discussing Standstill Agreements for Atlantic Aviation and American Flyers as well, extending their operations at SMO until the closure issue is resolved. The City has not commented.

Santa Monica city councils throughout the years have talked about closing the century-old airport -- especially since the advent of jets and their growing popularity with SMO charter companies that primarily serve the wealthy.

Complaints about the airport have soared as the West Los Angeles and Santa Monica neighborhoods surrounding SMO have become more densely populated.

Neighbors contend the airport is too close to homes and the jets generate excessive noise and pollution.

But the aviation industry considers SMO a relief value for busy Los Angeles International Airport and says it plays an important role in the event of a major emergency.

The industry also has a frequent and powerful ally in its corner: the FAA, which oversees the nation's airports.

The last time a Santa Monica City Council voted to shut SMO -- which it owns -- was in 1981. Three years later, the City signed a compromise with the FAA that gave the City greater authority to control problems such as noise in exchange for allowing the airport to operate until 2015.

The FAA now contends the expiration gained anther 20 years when the City accepted federal money for airport improvements.

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