SMO — It’s not too late and it’s not too early, attorneys representing City Hall said of a lawsuit over the Santa Monica Airport.
City Hall filed a response Friday to the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) motion to dismiss the dispute over the airport. City Hall is asking for that motion to be squashed.
In October, city officials filed a lawsuit against the FAA to determine who would control of the future of the airport and its 227 acres.
Local residents have long complained about the noise and pollution caused by SMO. The runway is about 300 feet from some homes and residents say it’s unsafe. Last year, a jet carrying four people veered off the runway and into a hangar killing everyone on board.
FAA officials filed a motion earlier this month asking a judge to toss the suit.
If City Hall had an issue with the terms of the agreement, FAA attorneys said, they should have made it clear long ago when they became aware that the federal government was interested in the land.
City Hall ceded some control of the airport to the federal government during World War II. City Hall had 12 years to dispute the arrangement, FAA attorneys said.
Attorneys representing City Hall responded saying that they don’t dispute the initial arrangement, although they do challenge the constitutionality of some of the restrictions, but they do dispute a 2008 claim made by the FAA.
“The FAA asserted for the first time that Santa Monica was obligated to operate SMO as an airport forever or title to the land on which SMO sits would, inexplicably, revert to the United States even though the United States never owned the property,” attorneys said in the response.
Until 2008, they said, the FAA had recognized City Hall’s ability to reevaluate the future of the airport.
City Hall’s goal, they said, is to dispute these recent claims.
City officials do not comment on ongoing litigation.
A response from the FAA is due on Monday. The federal government declined to comment on City Hall’s response.
A clause in a mid-20th century document says that if City Hall decides to stop operating the space as an airport, “the title, right of possession, and all other rights transferred” revert back to the landowner, attorneys for City Hall claimed in the original complaint.
Until city officials stop operating the land as an airport the issue is “unripe” or premature, the FAA’s motion said.
Attorneys representing the city by the sea disputed this claim in the most recent brief, noting that they are seeking “declaratory relief.”
This asks the courts to clarify its “rights or obligations before an affirmative remedy is needed,” they said. For this reason, they say, the suit is ripe.
Litigation is necessary
City Hall is skipping a procedure that allows them to ask for more control of the airport, FAA attorneys said in their motion to dismiss the suit. Several times throughout the past half-century, they said, City Hall asked for and received more control over parts of the airport property. Instead of a lawsuit, they said, City Hall should have done as they’ve done in the past, ask the FAA for permission.
The FAA has made it clear that no agreements will be made outside of litigation, attorneys for City Hall said in their response.
“City staff members met with FAA representatives several times to convey community concerns and the city’s position about SMO’s future,” attorneys representing City Hall said. “The FAA was unwilling or unable to agree to, or even to negotiate on, any compromise as to SMO’s future operation.”
City officials have long claimed that its agreement with the FAA expires in 2015. FAA officials say its 2023.
A hearing is scheduled for Feb. 10 in a U.S. District Court.