The City of Santa Monica has waged a battle with the FAA for over 30 years about the closure of its airport. Originally known as Clover Field, the runway has been in the same place since 1919 (see below picture circa 1922) and the community has grown up around it.
During the World Wars, the Douglas Aircraft Company located its headquarters there and was the site of the christening of many famous aircraft, including the Douglas World Cruiser[i] (pictured below). The first airplanes to fly around the world were built at the Douglas factory.
[i] Journalism integrity disclosure: one of the pilots who flew this aircraft was a great uncle of the “author.”
That history is intended to explain how long SMO has been a part of the Santa Monica community. It’s not a recent addition and likely it’s a lot older than any of the residents who have subsequently moved to some location proximate to the airport. One may also reasonably assume that any rational buyer, who considered the purchase of a house in the environs of the City, would have noticed the existence of the airport.
At a level up from the home purchaser is the City Council, the Mayor and the Airport Manager. All are likely to have reviewed the FAA Grant Agreement, before receiving the $250,000 from the FAA in 2003. By executing that binding contract, the City became obligated to run the airport another 20 years, or until 2023. That twenty year extension is one of the terms of the standard agreement which every airport must sign in order to receive the federal funds. The City has hired very competent airport lawyers, who within the attorney-client privilege, have explained exactly what that means.
Santa Monica’s Mayor Kevin McKeown has made the following comments about the FAA:
- “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.”
- “We had a closed session meeting with our national aviation attorneys at our last meeting 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.”
- “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.”
- “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.”
That is not the rhetoric of someone who is confident in his legal case. Casting aspersions on the speediness of bureaucrats is typically a way to obfuscate the merits. His perceptions of the American taxpayers’ expectations may actually reflect his frustrations with the FAA’s staff following the mandates of Congress as to the Grant Program—dollars given for the promise that the airport will remain open for the agreed 20 year extension. The NATIONAL taxpayers expect when their dollars are spent there will be an enforceable quid pro quo, the extension.
Rhetoric is in the DNA of Santa Monica. That Saint was born in 332 and gave birth to a son, named Augustine, St. Augustine. He studied law and taught rhetoric. In his scholarly work On Christian Doctrine, the Saint expounded on the art of his chosen academic study:
“For since through the art of rhetoric both truth and falsehood are pleaded, who would be so bold as to say that against falsehood, truth as regards its own defenders ought to stand unarmed, so that, forsooth, those who attempt to plead false causes know from the beginning how to make their audience well-disposed, attentive, docile, while the others remain ignorant of it; so that the former utter their lies concisely, clearly, with the appearance of truth, and the latter state the truth in a way that is wearisome to listen to, not clear to understand, and finally, not pleasant to believe…”
The City may be able to articulate strong compelling legal arguments, but hyperbole, even as crafted by the ancestors of St. Augustine or her mother, is not enough. Once again, a court will likely tell the City that a contract is a contract and the airport must remain open until 2023.