The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has reiterated its ruling that the City of Santa Monica is required to keep Santa Monica Airport open through 2023.
In a ruling released Monday, the FAA denied an appeal of an earlier decision and maintained the City is required to keep the airport open due to the acceptance of grant money.
According to the FAA, Santa Monica received $1,604,700 for planning, airport development or noise program implementation in 1994. Projects funded by the grant were completed in 1996 however the city applied for, and received, an additional $240,600 in 2003. The FAA maintains that its agreements with grant recipients last for the life of the facility built with the money or 20 years.
City Hall had argued the 2003 grant did not trigger the grant provisions as it shouldn’t be considered a “new” grant but rather should be part of the preexisting agreement that would have expired in 2014.
National aviation associations and individuals accused the City of violating of its agreement with the FAA by stating its obligations to the Federal Government expired in 2014 and filed a federal administrative process known as a Part 16 hearing.
City officials had filed a motion to dismiss the case but their motion was denied in Dec. of 2015. The Monday ruling was the city’s first appeal and officials said they will now continue their appeals in the federal court system.
“We are not surprised. The FAA has once again acted in their favor, as judge and jury in matters involving the future of Santa Monica’s land. We did not expect the FAA to rule against itself,” said Mayor Tony Vazquez in a written statement. “We will act swiftly to appeal this decision to a federal appellate court where an impartial panel of judges will consider all of the facts and our legal claims will finally be given fair consideration. Our City Council is committed to protect the health and safety of all the communities that have been forced to endure the adverse impacts from the airport.”
Nelson Hernandez, Sr. Advisor Airport Affairs for the city, said the city expected the FAA to uphold its own ruling.
“Keep in mind the FAA is judge and jury in these administrative proceedings hence impartially and consideration of all the facts is not necessarily required,” he wrote in an email. “What is required is a strong determination to protect public health from dangerous lead exhaust, excessive noise and potential accidents. That is why, Mayor Vazquez said the City intends to appeal to the Courts whether impartially and facts are required.”
Aside from the grant related case, City Hall has other legal battles afoot over the airport. The National Business Aviation Association has filed a separate Part 16 hearing against the city with multiple allegations including an assertion the City has illegally diverted funds away from airport operations as a means of strangling aviation operations. The FAA has accepted that complaint but no ruling has been issued.
City Hall is also embroiled in lawsuit over ownership of the airport land. That case has been remanded to the U.S. District court for trial.
The City Council has already scheduled a discussion for its Aug. 23 meeting to reiterate its desire to close the airport and explicitly discuss expectations for doing so.