Closing Santa Monica Airport (SMO)
Positive Options to End 40 Years of Litigation, Time & Money
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).
Seriously, 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!
Here’s a possible alternative to consider, but first a few assumptions:
- Neither side will accept defeat.
- The City does not have infinite dollars available for litigation, while the US does.
- The City has substantial needs—services (education, police, fire, pensions, social services, etc.) capital expenditures – and as inelastic tax base as any community.
- The economic value of SMO can be greater WHILE its closure will reduce the property’s net contribution to the City’s coffers.
- 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.
- Litigation, given the zero sum game strategy of both sides, is not likely to stop for years and at what expense?
- 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).
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?
WHAT IS A PREFERRED “OPTION”?
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?