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Agreement Requires Santa Monica to Keep Airport Open 'Forever'

January 13, 2017

Dear Editor,

I believe a clarification is in order regarding the article "Court Bid to Evict Key Aviation Tenants from Santa Monica Airport Delayed Again," January 11, 2017. The article states:

"The last time a Santa Monica City Council voted to shut SMO -- which it owns -- was in 1981. Three years later, the City signed a compromise with the FAA that gave the City greater authority to control problems such as noise in exchange for allowing the airport to operate until 2015. The FAA now contends the expiration gained anther 20 years when the City accepted federal money for airport improvements."

Firstly, while the City of Santa Monica owns the municipal airport, it does not have complete control over the land because of agreements made with the Government of the United States in 1948 which require the land to be used for an airport "forever".

The City is contesting this, but it is the law for now. The phrasing in the article implies that the City's rights of ownership are being denied. Not so. The City cannot repurpose the land under the freeways or the metro line either, although they occupy city land.

Under the terms of the agreement, the City did not "allow" the airport to operate until 2015. They do not have that authority under Federal law. They acquiesced to Federal demands.

Second, and more important, is the continued misconstruing of the the terms and meaning of the 1984 Airport Agreement between the City and the Federal Government (in this instance, the FAA).

The 1984 Agreement does not speak to the City's obligation to keep the airport open until 2015 or any other date (you can look up the text on the City's web site). It was a 30 year agreement on how the airport was to be run until that time, e.g. the lower south-east aircraft tiedown area adjacent to the dog park was released as "residual" land way back in 1984, but was not repurposed by the City because it had an obligation to supply space for a minimum "fleet" size of 520 aircraft. The City could not do this without using that land.

The question of whether the City is obligated to maintain an airport is not addressed in the 1984 agreement, but rather in the 1948 Instrument Of Transfer (IOT) dictated by Congress in the Surplus Property Act. The timing-out of the 1984 agreement does not affect the terms of the IOT and was not intended to do so. The reasoning in 1984 was that this 30 year agreement, through participation and cooperation between the City of Santa Monica, its citizens, and the airport users would be renegotiated at the end of its term. That process failed to materialize.

Lastly, the 2023 date referring to the end of grant assurances to the Federal Government, again does not bear on the whether the airport can close or not. Like the 1984 Agreement, it merely speaks to how the airport must operate for a specific time. If the City were to prevail in a court challenge to this date, it still would not have the right to close the airport as of 2015, 2023, or any specific time in the future.

Clearly, the City does not agree and continues to spend millions in taxpayer dollars in pursuit of their goal to close the airport and reuse the land for other purposes, which, by virtue of Proposition LC, they can do without a vote of the people in four specific, but broadly interpreted categories.


Bill Worden

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