Santa Monica Airport

The City of Santa Monica is eliminated 73 aircraft tie-downs in a six-acre parcel of the Santa Monica airport as one of the first concrete actions in advance of expanding park space at the airport. A 1984 agreement between the City and the FAA had mandated that parcel of land be used to accommodate aircraft; but with the expiration of the agreement, City Hall was able to repurpose the site along with a separate six-acre lot opposite the current Museum of Flying.

Council approved $211,200 (plus a 10- percent contingency) to pay for a feasibility study and concept design by landscape design firm Rios Clementi Hale Studios (RCH) to help design the park expansion. While tie-downs were only eliminated from one of the parcels, the study will cover a potential 12-acre park expansion into both lots.

Staff have held several public workshops on the future of the park and residents were presented with three designs that maximized different priorities for the land including additional playfields, other active uses and natural park space. Officials eventually settled on a conceptual design that will be the foundation for future planning.

The plans call for a 12-acre park expansion that will expand the number of fields, increase community garden plots and provide non-sport uses near the existing Airport park.

Legal disputes continued over airport operations. A group of airport users and businesses filed a complaint alleging financial misconduct by the City. The group argues City Hall is illegally diverting airport revenues away from airport uses, that leases are being unfairly enforced in a way that inappropriately favors non-aviation tenants and that pilots are subject to unreasonably high fines/fees. City Hall said the complaint was fueled by corporate greed and was an attempt to undermine residential control of the Santa Monica Airport.

Council approved a new leasing policy for the airport that uses six principles for evaluating leases, including harmony with airport neighbors, contributing to a sustainable airport fund, being in compliance with the city’s legal rights and legal obligations, opportunities for arts/education/culture, providing procedures for administration/ evaluation, and environmental sensitivity. The new policy follows a move by the city to provide long term leases to non-aviation businesses but offer only month-to-month leases to aviation clients. The city’s leasing policy resulted in Gunnell Properties leaving Santa Monica Airport.

The leasing policy resulted in another new complaint being filed against the City as Atlantic Aviation opened a new case alleging the city is in violation of its federal mandates due to ongoing attempts to close the airport and specifically a decision to deny long-term leases to aviation tenants.

Spitfire Grill, located at the Santa Monica Airport, celebrated its 25-year anniversary. The business celebrated its longevity and dedicated customer base but expressed concern over its future given the protracted disputes over the airport at large.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) denied an appeal of an earlier decision regarding the possible closure of the airport and maintained the City is required to keep the airport open through 2023 due to the acceptance of federal grant money. National aviation associations and individuals had accused the City of violating of its agreement with the FAA by stating its obligations to the Federal Government expired in 2014.

Council passes a resolution reiterating their desire to close the airport on or before July 1, 2018. The vote made clear Council’s intentions but did not address the ongoing disputes over the city’s authority to implement those desires. The resolution also called for a municipal takeover of some aviation services currently provided by private businesses.

The FAA continued to argue Santa Monica is obligated to operate the airport and criticized the city for attempts to restrict use by aviation interests. The agency sent a letter outlining specific concerns over recent City actions and warning of legal action if airport operations are restricted. The FAA followed up by opening an investigation into the City’s actions. In addition to citing the leasing policy and closure resolution, the FAA said the City’s goal of phasing out leaded fuel sales as part of a takeover of aviation services could be discriminatory and therefore illegal.

City Hall field its own legal action to force two companies to vacate the airport. The companies provide services to pilots that Santa Monica wants to bring in-house. The two companies filed their own legal documents to prevent the city from forcing their removal but after the businesses lost in court, the city filed Unlawful Detainer actions. The FAA stepped into the dispute towards the end of the year issuing a Cease and Desist order to the City over its attempts to evict the businesses.

Another court date was set to determine who has overall authority over the airport land. A federal judge ruled against the city in a 2013 suit the City had filed against the federal government claiming federal authorities had no claim to the land. The city appealed their initial loss and a hearing was set for March of 2017.