A Los Angeles pilot and a Santa Monica pilot-in-training have filed a lawsuit alleging the City’s agreement with the Federal Aviation Administration to shorten the runway and eventually shut down SMO violated the Brown Act.
James Babinksi and Kate Scott filed a complaint in the Los Angeles Superior Court that alleges the secret meetings and closed session discussions between the City Council, the City Attorney, other staff members and the FAA showed “lack of compliance with the Brown Act (and) utter disrespect for the open meetings laws and Constitution.”
Conversations between City staff, the Council and the FAA were kept under wraps until the Council publicly voted on the terms of the agreement in January at a special Saturday meeting. The Council narrowly approved the settlement with a 4-3 vote.
The Brown Act is California’s sunshine law, which governs local government meetings. The Act permits closed-session meetings for pending litigation and situations involving significant exposure to litigation.
Scott lives in the Sunset Park neighborhood just west of SMO and has invested in aviation lessons at the airport. Babinski works at the airport for one of the aeronautical service providers and is a private pilot. Both content they were denied their right to testify, speak and scrutinize the settlement agreement and eventual closure of the airport.
Neither Scott nor Babinski responded to the Daily Press’ request for comment.
The City believes the lawsuit will be dismissed.
“The City takes compliance with the Brown Act – the state’s public meeting law – seriously,” Interim City Attorney Joe Lawrence said. “Transparency is a core value of the City. We believe the lawsuit does not have merit and is contradicted both by what actually happened and the Brown Act itself.”
The two residents are not the first to file litigation to fight the consent decree in an effort to keep SMO open. In February, the National Business Aviation Association along with several other businesses and aviation groups petitioned the U.S. Court of Appeals to review the agreement. On Thursday, three Circuit Court Judges denied the NBAA’s motion to halt all construction on the runway until the court can review the settlement.
“We expected the D.C. Circuit Court to reject the injunction request,” Mayor Ted Winterer said in a statement Friday. “The City will continue to swiftly implement the terms of the Consent Decree, including shortening the runway, and mitigating health and safety impacts on our neighborhoods while the airport is in operation.”
The consent decree included an agreement that the airport will remain open through 2028 and dismissed litigation between the FAA and Santa Monica. The City is currently exploring two options to reduce the runway at SMO from 5,000 feet to 3,500 feet. The City Council will review the runway shortening options May 24 before the contractor, AECOM, can finalize the design, determine the final cost and set a construction timeline.
While the judge dismissed the NBAA’s motion to halt construction, the order also referred the case to a merits panel to review the legality of the decree.
“The order…makes clear that the court holds steadfast on the need to for a thorough and fair hearing about this unprecedented situation,” NBAA President and CEO Ed Bolen said. “For decades, the NBAA has pursued all potential avenues for preserving business aviation access to the Santa Monica Municipal Airport, and we will continue to exercise every remaining option for doing so.”