A positive option to endless litigation over Santa Monica Airport?

closing santa monica airport
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Closing Santa Monica Airport (SMO)

Positive Options to End 40 Years of Litigation, Time & Money

closing santa monica airport Never has so much (here and the trade/general press [53,000]) been written, for so long (40 years), and with such anger as the battle over the closure of Santa Monica’s airport. The funds spent by the City and private entities litigating this contentious issue is absurd; note: the FAA has not spent a penny litigating this matter (its lawyers and the Department of Justice trial lawyers are fixed costs, paid for by the taxpayers). Indeed, if you placed the all of the lawyers, who have participated in the multiple proceedings, head-to-toe the length of the runway, there would be 821 (at an average of 6′) attorneys (not all but a representative sample) lying there; talk about temptation (the author would be among those prostrate on the concrete).

closing santa monica airportSeriously, this issue has consumed inordinate time and effort by both sides. With the news that an air carrier will be offering air service from SMO, while others are advocating ignoring the FAA’s Cease and Desist Order, it is highly likely that the legal fees ATM will continue to send dollars to counsel on both sides, except the US.

That seems to be a waste!

closing santa monica airport

Here’s a possible alternative to consider, but first a few assumptions:

  1. Neither side will accept defeat.
  1. The City does not have infinite dollars available for litigation, while the US does.
  1. The City has substantial needs—services (education, police, fire, pensions, social services, etc.) capital expenditures – and as inelastic tax base as any community.
  1. The economic value of SMO can be greater WHILE its closure will reduce the property’s net contribution to the City’s coffers.
  1. The federal interest is driven by two determinations, neither of which is negotiable:
    • The runway is an essential part of the LA Basin aviation infrastructure.
    • Conceding that the City can walk away from its Grant Assurances would establish an unacceptable precedent given the Billions of AIP $ invested in airports.
  1. Litigation, given the zero sum game strategy of both sides, is not likely to stop for years and at what expense?
  1. The FAA has the power to assess civil penalties against the City. If the City continues in its position the FAA can issue sanction for each FAR violated for each day multiplied. So, on a daily basis the FAA can seek dollars in excess of six figures. To collect the penalties, there are procedures and proceedings, which the FAA must follow, but they are slow and expensive.

Why not have the City get out of the airport business?

Offer SMO to private parties for “privatization”? The FAA will likely review and approve the change of ownership/lease quickly. The airport revenues, collected by the company which wins the bidding process, will now be paid to the City for its use as it deems appropriate. In negotiating the sale or lease of SMO, the City has some policy options (neither closure nor curfew among them).

closing santa monica airport

The City can benefit from monetizing the Airport. Perhaps, those who live closest to the runway can directly benefit from the private operator’s payments. Might not some monetary compensation for the much hated noise result in some change in opinion?


A.)  Reversing the outflow of City money spent on litigation against SMO, enhancing the revenues to be raised at SMO and directly compensating those who live nearby SMO.


B.)  Continuing to spend substantial amounts of City tax money against the FAA, which does not have to pay for its lawyers, with no assurance that a court will find that SMO can close.

A or B?


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1 Comment on "A positive option to endless litigation over Santa Monica Airport?"

  1. The problem with your suggestion is that the FAA, in it’s 2012 Asset study, removed nearly every privately-owned airport in the US from the airport classification(s) that enable them to receive FAA Airport Improvement Program funding and Airport Capital Improvement Program funding. Grants from those programs are the mechanisms that encumber the airport’s owner, in this case the City of Santa Monica, with the responsibility of keeping the airport an airport.

    Even for privately owned airports who do still receive FAA grant funding (KSDC is an example), there is still the formality the FAA requires of getting the local municipality and sometimes the County government’s approval, via supporting documents, for the airport to get the grant funding.

    The problem the anti-airport people have is that they really don’t understand how much economy the airport brings to Santa Monica, most of which does not show up on the airport’s balance sheet, or the businesses located at the airport. A city builds a main street on which businesses can thrive, but the road itself is not a revenue source. Until anti-airport people can understand that an airport is not a revenue source, but supports the entire city’s economy in a way that is difficult to measure, they will not give up their single-minded, selfish purpose of closing the airport.

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