In a landmark decision, a U.S. District Court judge sided with the FAA in a motion to dismiss a federal lawsuit brought by the City of Santa Monica over the future of Santa Monica Municipal Airport (SMO).
In a case filed last October, the Santa Monica City Council asked the court to allow the city to use the airport property as it sees fit, including alternative uses. The lawsuit challenged the FAA’s claim that the city was obligated to operate the property as an airport or, if they do not, then the right of possession to the property could — at the option of the U.S. government — revert to the U.S.
The presiding judge ruled on Feb. 13 that the United States government claimed a clear interest in the airport property and has never abandoned that interest. The city had 12 years under the Quiet Title Act to bring suit against the federal government. In strong language, the judge wrote that the city either knew, or should have known, that the federal government claimed an interest in the airport property as long ago as 1948, and as a result the statute of limitations for the city to claim title of the airport has expired.
“The city was stopped in its tracks yesterday in its most recent effort to strangle Santa Monica Airport,” said Mark Baker, president of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA). “The city is not representing its citizens. Surveys have proven the majority of Santa Monica residents support the airport, yet the city continues to spend millions of dollars of taxpayer money to shut down this economic engine that provides jobs and annual revenue of more than $200 million. Santa Monica Airport is vital to the city and to our nation’s air transportation system and it must not close.”
While the city has not revealed a new use plan for the area, previous city council proposals have touted the massive development potential for the airport property, including a large business park. In recent years, new development has been of significant concern to the city’s residents. Proposals have drawn sharp criticism ranging from the city water supply’s incapability to handle new development to increased traffic congestion that could slow down fire and rescue response time.
“We fully expect the city to make another run at closing Santa Monica Airport,” said Baker. “We will use absolutely every resource available to us to prevent that from happening.”
The city of Santa Monica has repeatedly attempted to restrict operations or close the popular airport, which serves as a reliever for nearby Los Angeles International Airport. On Feb. 10, AOPA and the National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) filed a friend of the court brief in support of the FAA’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit.