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Appeals Court Grounds Pilot Lawsuit

By Olin Ericksen
Staff Writer

September 7 -- A six-year legal battle between those who use Santa Monica airport daily and City officials who manage the busy runway could soon be over after a court of appeals last month grounded the airport group’s right to sue.

The Santa Monica Airport Association (SMAA) -- a group of several hundred businesses and pilots at the airport -- filed suit against the City of Santa Monica in 1999 over how the City enforces noise regulations and how much parking space remains for planes.

The suit came nearly fifteen years after a 1984 settlement agreement was signed by the City and the Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) to keep the airport open and running smoothly – an agreement SMAA said the City breached by implementing unreasonable and costly noise regulations and limiting airport traffic by overdeveloping the site.

After years of litigation and a 2003 trial court victory for SMAA, City
attorneys hailed the August 24 finding that the Airport Association was not a signatory party to the 1984 agreement and could not sue the City.

“I hope the ruling of the Court of Appeal will encourage the Airport Association to work with Airport Staff on the issues facing the Airport today rather than dwell on issues from the past,” said Airport Manager Robert Trimborn.

Despite the ruling, the two parties will likely continue to battle over how the City develops land at the airport and how it measures noise infractions that can carry fines of as high as $10,000.

“This is headed for another fight,” said Lloyd Kirschbaum, attorney for the Airport Association, who said he plans to appeal the decision.

Because of a large increase in jet traffic that can rattle neighborhood windows and rally neighborhood groups to pressure elected officials, Kirschbaum claims the City wants to limit airport growth until 2015, when the 1984 agreement ends.

Under the 1984 settlement with the FAA, the City took over operations of the airport, but agreed to keep it open.

“We’re 20 years in on a 30 year agreement, this is not the end of the fight,” Kirschbaum said.

He points to attempts by the City to close the airport in the late 1970s and to more recent regulations and development aimed at limiting the growth of aviation uses.

“They’re trying to put it out of business,” said Kirschbaum.

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