Santa Monica Lookout
|City is “Squeezing” Santa Monica Airport Aviation Tenants, FAA Complaint Charges|
By Niki Cervantes
February 10, 2016 -- A group of aviators and businesses at the Santa Monica Airport has filed a complaint with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) accusing the City of financially “squeezing” tenants in an effort to close the century-old airport.
In the latest volley in the battle over the fate of the municipal airport, the February 5 filing says the City is hitting airport tenants and users with “burdensome operational and leasing restrictions” that will scare away future business and “provide an excuse for a vicious circle of further restrictions and ultimately closure.”
“Simply put, the City has created a financial structure which imposes enormous, ongoing, unsustainable – and clearly impermissible – financial burdens and deficits on the Airport, which historically has operated on a break-even or near break-even basis, and but for the City’s actions would continue to do so today,” the complainants said.
The FAA filing says the City has imposed “excessive and unreasonable landing fees” calculated using the wrong methodology and diverted millions of dollars of Airport revenue to the City’s general fund.
In addition, the complaint accuses the City of charging excessive interest rates as high as 8 percent on loans to the airport and overcharged the airport for up to $2.78 million in interest between 2008-2009 and 2013-2014.
Aviation-related lease holders say they have been “denied new leases” or been on month-to-month lease terms “without justification,” while Santa Monica College “pays far less than fair market rent for the airport use,” according to the complaint.
The complaint was filed by attorney Richard K. Simon on behalf of several aviators, including the National Business Aviation Association, the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, Bill’s Air Center, Justice Aviation and Mark Smith, Kim Davidson Aviation.
Noting that City officials had long sought to convert the airport to non-aeronautical uses, the complaint says that to “achieve this goal directly, the City has adopted a program of financially “squeezing” airport tenants and users.
The Santa Monica City Attorney’s Office did not return calls for comment.
Santa Monica officials have struggled off and on for decades over the airport’s future.
Leased to the federal government in the heat of World War II, the lease was returned to the City in 1948. Aviators contend the City is bound by an FAA agreement to operate the site as an airport until 2023, as the FAA ruled on December 4.
On January 8, the City appealed the ruling (“City of Santa Monica and Aviators Back Before FAA in Fight for Control of City Airport, February 3, 2016). City officials say the airport is so close to densely populated neighborhoods that it causes unacceptable levels of noise, pollution and other problems.
Aviators promptly filed a brief against the appeal contending that the City extended its agreement to operate the airport until 2023 when its accepted federal funds for airport improvements in 2003. The City has challenged that contention, saying the lease expired in July 2014.
The new filing cites examples of “bullying and intimidation” plaintiffs say is characteristic of the City as it fights to shutter the airport, demonstrating its continuing disregard” for fair treatment of tenants and users.
The complainants are asking, among other changes, that all allegedly diverted airport funds be returned to the airport.
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