CITY HALL — A federal judge Thursday ruled in favor of the federal government and tossed out City Hall’s lawsuit regarding ownership of the Santa Monica Airport, city officials announced.

Judge John F. Walter said city officials were too late in filing their lawsuit to determine who controls and ultimately owns the land on which the airport sits and also dismissed other claims, saying City Hall is premature because it had failed to first seek compensation in the Court of Federal Claims.

City officials are evaluating the 17-page ruling to determine next steps. It is anticipated that the City Council will receive advice from outside attorneys at the next regular council meeting, which is set for Feb. 25.

“The court’s ruling is being carefully evaluated by the legal team … and in-house legal staff,” said City Attorney Marsha Moutrie. “Of course we are disappointed. But there is likely much work to come; and the attorneys representing the city are already looking forward and focusing our energies on the city’s options.”

In October, City Hall announced it would sue the federal government for full control of the airport’s future.

Neighboring residents have long complained about the noise and pollution created by the propellor planes and jets. Others fear for their safety, pointing out that the runway is only a few hundred feet from homes. In September, a jet veered off the runway into a hangar. The hangar caught fire causing the roof to collapse and all four aboard were killed.

City Hall owns the land but the FAA says that various agreements obligate the space to continue to operate as an airport.

Last month, the FAA asked the judge to toss the lawsuit, claiming that City Hall knew of the federal government’s intentions for the airport half a century ago. If City Hall wanted to sue, the FAA said, it should have been within 12 years of when they realized those intentions.

City Hall responded to the motion, pointing out that while they knew the federal government intended to operate SMO as an airport for decades, it was only a few years ago, in 2008, that they learned its intentions for the land to operate as such in perpetuity.

The second major argument put forward by the FAA is that a lawsuit is “unripe” — that the matter can’t be settled in court until conflict arises. City Hall maintains that, according to contracts, if they stop operating the land as an airport, the only penalty would be for the rights to revert back to City Hall. In the lawsuit, they are seeking “declaratory relief” to determine their rights prior to litigation. Until City Hall refuses to operate the space as an airport, the FAA says, the matter should not be heard in court.

The judge agreed.

 

kevinh@smdp.com