In the battle for the Santa Monica Airport, legal attacks are picking up.
Next week, City Council will consider what to do after a key 1984 agreement between City Hall and the Federal Aviation Administration expires on July 1.
City attorneys couldn’t offer a lot of guarantees but they did say — if council decides to make any big moves like shortening the runway or banning planes that release a lot of emission — that lawsuits are likely.
Perhaps to underline the point, they updated council on the status of all the pending litigation surrounding the airport in the last year.
“This has been an extremely litigious year,” they said in the report.
City Hall v. FAA
In 2013, Santa Monica sued the FAA, seeking to determine who will control the airport’s 227-acres of land once several key agreements expire. A judge threw the case out after the FAA motioned to have it dismissed.
City Hall is appealing that decision in the Ninth Circuit.
“Based on experience in the Ninth Circuit, staff and outside counsel do not expect a decision until sometime in late 2016,” city attorneys said in the report, “after which the case may go back to the federal trial court or the losing party may petition the United States Supreme Court for review.”
Measure D lawsuits
Two lawsuits were filed against City Hall and the backers of a pro-SMO measure that flamed out at the polls last year.
Anti-airport activists said that the measure never should have been allowed on the ballot. Both lawsuits were dismissed and a judge ordered the filers to pay the aviation interest’s attorneys fees.
In July, national aviation associations and individuals — like actor Harrison Ford, who recently crashed his plane on a golf course adjacent to the Santa Monica Airport — kicked off an administrative proceeding in front of the FAA claiming that the disputed end date of another agreement (not the 1984 agreement) expires in 2023, years later that City Hall has asserted.
City attorneys have made arguments against the petition and are awaiting a key decision, which was due on March 13. The FAA will review that decision and a final decision would likely be issued later this year or early next year.
Top Gun, an airport user claims in a lawsuit that, among other things, the City Hall contractor that administers landing fees — which went up a few years ago — is charging aircraft just for entering the SMO airspace but don’t land. Top Gun also filed an injunction, seeking to temporarily halt the charging of landing fees. This was denied. The suit is ongoing.
In 2013, a plane flown by local builder Mark Benjamin veered off the runway, crashing into a hangar, and killing all four people on board.
The family of one of the passengers is suing Benjamin’s family and City Hall, claiming that the airport constitutes a dangerous condition on public property. That case is being handled by City Hall’s insurance company. Additionally, City Hall is suing for property damages and expenses from the crash.
Another crash, which occurred in 2011 when a pilot trainee crashed a plane into a resident’s garage in Sunset Park, resulted in a lawsuit that was just settled. The aviation company that was training the pilot paid the homeowner in the settlement and made a small contribution to City Hall’s insurance carrier.