The City of Santa Monica does not want to sponsor an airport; the US can and should take it back

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The total fees paid to lawyers, which have been spent over the closure of the Santa Monica Airport, probably exceeds the value of the land on which it is located. The issue has been the primary topic in eight posts here in the last two years; while the goal is to be balanced in matters mentioned here, this battle merits more attention. As asserted before (see, among others, this commentary), IS IT NOT THE TIME TO END THE MISERY?

There is no clearer statement of animosity by the Sponsor for the airport and Grants which the City has signed than its most recent economic warfare. The Airport Commission voted to change the term of hangar leases to month-to-month with the obvious goal of driving the aircraft off of the airfield. The recommendation is based on the premise that the owner of an aircraft cannot risk being evicted and will be compelled to move elsewhere.

To demonstrate the double-speak and/or mendacity that prevails in Santa Monica, the City just filed pleadings in the FAA Part 16 docket which stated:

“’City Council has previously voted to offer three (3) year lease extensions which would run through June 30, 2018 and is in the process of considering proposed lease guidelines,’ states Santa Monica’s Motion to Dismiss the Part 16 Complaint of Nation Business Aircraft Association, et, al, dated August 14, 2014.

Santa Monica City Hall has issued repeated assurances that no such policy, and indeed no policies whatsoever on lease extensions for aviation and non-aviation tenants, has been adopted.”

Whatever stance truly reflects the City’s position, the underlying hypothesis (that the planes to be driven out of SMO will move somewhere else) is problematic. There are no vacant hangars in the LA Basin and most likely all of Southern California; there’s no where to go. The NIMBYs really do not just want these aircraft to leave their community, but to be grounded, based on the aviation realities of this region.

NBAA and AOPA, which have been protecting SMO since the late 1970’s and paying heavy litigation bills, have filed an excellent brief in the FAA Part 16 docket. The resolution sought there is to compel the City to acknowledge its Grant Assurances for years to come.

While that is a clear legal remedy, such an extension will prolong the madness. Even after the entry of such an order, the sort of guerilla warfare will continue—quadrupling lease rates; “repairing” the water and power lines into the airport and running out of funds mid project; scheduling disaster drills frequently to disrupt flights; and the like. Their clear intent is to drive the tenants out and close SMO.

What is clear and what now may be judicially noticeable is that the City of Santa Monica no longer intends to meet the strictures of 49 USC §47107 (d), among others:

“The Secretary of Transportation may approve an application under this subchapter for an airport development project grant for a privately owned public-use airport only if the Secretary receives appropriate assurances that the airport will continue to function as a public-use airport during the economic life (that must be at least 10 years) of any facility at the airport that was developed with Government financial assistance under this subchapter.” [emphasis added]

The City Under such a finding, the remedy is revision in which the US Government, based on its deeding the land to the City and the AIP Grants, can request that the airport be returned to the federal government. And, yes, the FAA can, and has, managed airports.

Acronyms used in this article (in order):

FAA: Federal Aviation Association

SMO: Santa Monica Airport

NIMBY: Not In My Back Yard

NBAA: National Business Aviation Association

AOPA: Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association

USC: United States Code

AIP Grants: Air Improvement Program

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