WASHINGTON — While the Federal Aviation Administration’s legal battle continues with City Hall over its controversial jet ban at Santa Monica Airport, one local congressman hasn’t given up hope that the two parties can work out their differences outside of court.
Congressman Henry Waxman, D-Los Angeles, on Thursday added an amendment to the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2009, which oversees all aspects of the agency, to encourage the new administrator to enter good faith discussions with City Hall, finding solutions to the long-standing concerns over what many local officials believe is the absence of adequate runway safety measures at the airport.
Waxman’s district includes Santa Monica.
The non-binding amendment, which was accepted by voice vote, comes just a week after an FAA hearing officer ruled that a 2008 ordinance prohibiting categories C and D jets from Santa Monica Airport (SMO) put City Hall in violation of its federal obligations. The ban was adopted in response to concerns that a jet could one day overshoot the runway and crash into homes, which sit just 300 feet away from the airport.
“For nearly a decade, I have joined the community, the city of Santa Monica and the Airport Administration to push the FAA to address this serious safety gap,” Waxman said in a statement to congress on Thursday. “While the FAA has had discussions with the city, its response has at times been marked by delay and unfortunate acts of bad faith.”
The FAA has presented several safety options, including installing a series of concrete beds meant to give way under the weight of an aircraft. The proposals were rejected by city officials as inadequately addressing their concerns, leading to the adoption of the ban in March 2008.
Ian Gregor, spokesman with the FAA, said the agency has always acted in good faith with city officials.
“Although we were under no legal obligations to negotiate with Santa Monica, we spent nearly six years trying to come to an agreement with the city,” Gregor said. “We made a number of proposals that addressed the city’s safety concerns but the city rejected all of those proposals.”
The legal issue with the FAA is expected to end up in federal appeals court after hearing officer Anthony Palladino ruled on the side of the FAA last week on several major points, including that the jet ban discriminates against certain classes of aeronautical activities and the operation of the airport. City Hall is expected to appeal the decision to the agency’s associate administrator for policy, planning and the environment, whom they expect will make the same judgment. The next step would be filing an appeal with the U.S. Court of Appeals.
The amendment by Waxman was a bright spot for City Hall, which lost an appeal with the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals earlier this month over an injunction on the jet ban. The FAA filed the injunction shortly before the ordinance was set to go into effect.
“Congressman Waxman has continuously supported the city in securing meaningful safety improvements for Santa Monica Airport,” Mayor Ken Genser said. “It is important to know that he is in this with the community for the long run.”