Judge’s ruling clears runway for construction
Daily Press Staff Writer
After an abrupt turn of events and then a reversal, the City is back on track with plans to shorten the runway at Santa Monica Airport from nearly 5,000 feet to 3,500.
A last-minute attempt by two local pilots to stall the project only managed to delay plans for a week – the City says construction will begin this week.
News of the back and forth threatened to give pilot groups and airport watchers whiplash this month, as the City’s on-again-off-again attempts to curb jet operations at SMO hit some bumpy air when a judge approved a temporary halt before construction crews started scraping off the paint.
However, upon further review, the injunction was dismissed, Senior U.S. District Court Judge Ronald S.W. Lew writing “all in all, granting a preliminary injunction would not further the public interest.”
“The City is pleased with the court’s decision, which allows it to fulfill its commitment to the community and the FAA,” City Airport Director Stelios Makrides wrote in a statement. “We thank you for your patience.”
With his ruling, Judge Lew dismissed claims that the work required permits, a public hearing or an environmental review.
“It is now clear that Defendant did not need an airport permit or public hearing for ‘realignment of an existing runway,’” Judge Lew wrote.
The California Department of Transportation informed the City that the runway shortening does not require either because it is not technically a realignment or extension.
In February, a different Judge approved the Consent Decree between the City of Santa Monica and the Federal Aviation Administration that allowed the runway to shorten.
The City Council also passed a resolution to close the airport to aviation once they gain control of the land Dec. 31, 2028.
James Babinski, a Los Angeles pilot, and Kate Scott, a pilot-in-training, are behind the case that delayed construction.
The plaintiffs argued the secret meetings and closed-door discussions between the City Council, the City Attorney and the FAA that resulted in the Consent Decree violated the Brown Act.
Babinski and Scott contend they were denied their right to testify, speak and scrutinize the settlement agreement and potential closure of SMO.
However, the judge found their attempts to stop the Decree’s wheels from turning came too late.
“Plaintiffs should have involved themselves sooner in the planning process to voice their concerns about the project, instead of allowing Defendant to make this much progress before trying to stop it,” Lew said, noting that Santa Monica residents passed Measure LC, placing governance of the airport in the City’s hands and rejected Measure D, which would have mandated voter approval before transforming SMO to anything other than an airport.
“Therefore, the public, including these voting residents, has an interest in this Court upholding the Consent Decree, the one that their representatives approved,” the judge said.
The two sides disagree whether the shorter runway is safer.
Babinski and Scott also argued the shorter runway “creates a risk of physical harm for anyone piloting or being transported in an airplane departing from the Airport” and “those living below the departure path.
” The City’s aviation safety airport argued the new runway will introduce 300-foot safety areas, prevent larger and faster aircraft from using the airport and reduce the frequency of take-offs and landings.
The runway will be completely closed to aircraft every night from 9 p.m. to 7 a.m. during the first phase of construction, according to a City issued notice that went out to residents at the beginning of the month.
A second phase will last ten days and require complete closures to aircraft.