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Status of Santa Monica Airport ‘Will Take Years to Sort out,’ City Attorney Says

Phil Brock For Council 2014

Santa Monica Real Estate Company, Roque and Mark

Michael Feinstein for Santa Monica City Council 2014Harding Larmore Kutcher & Kozal, LLP  law firm
Harding, Larmore Kutcher & Kozal, LLP

Pacific Park, Santa Monica Pier

Santa Monica Convention and Visitors BureauWhen one lives in a city as breathtakingly beautiful and unique as Santa Monica, inevitably that city will be shared with visitors.

By Jonathan Friedman
Associate Editor

August 14, 2014 -- Closure of Santa Monica Airport will happen only after a long legal battle, and nothing can be done to reduce the length, City Attorney Marsha Moutrie told the City Council on Tuesday.

Moutrie’s comments came during a discussion of changing the lease guidelines at the City-owned airport property. Several public speakers said the City should treat aviation and non-aviation uses differently when determining leases.

The City attorney said treating types of tenants differently would likely lead to a lawsuit from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for attempting to shut down the airport through “leasing policy or airport starvation.”

“There are four airport lawsuits pending at the moment,” she said. “I suppose we could do certain things that would draw a fifth or possibly a sixth. I don't think that would make the resolutions of what will happen with the airport come any faster.”

Moutrie added that the status of the airport “will take years to sort out,” and “this is not a situation where the federal government will easily let go of its hold on this land; and anyone who thinks that, and I say this with respect … is naive.”

The 227-acre property features various tenants, including those focused on aviation, food and art.

Public speakers who hope to see the airport close, possibly next summer, gave the council various ideas on how to give aviation interests weaker leases than others. Some speakers said they hoped that would inspire them to take their business to other airports.

Council members voted to send the lease guidelines to the Airport Commission for review because although that body had received a presentation on the proposal, its members had not given official feedback on it.

Airplanes have been flying out of the property for nearly 100 years, and the FAA is operating at the airport under an agreement signed with the City in 1984 following a legal battle. The agreement expires next summer, and some activists and City officials believe that means the airport can close at that time.

Others say the facility cannot close until 2023 at the earliest (“Santa Monica Airport Proponents Gain Star Power in Complaint,” July 4, 2014).

The goal for closure could become more complicated if Santa Monica voters approve a ballot measure in November backed by the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association and other aviation interests that calls for the requirement of voter approval to make any adjustments to the airport, including partial or full closure.

A rival measure drafted by City officials will also be on the ballot in November that gives the council more flexibility on running the airport. Its approval could nix the other measure even if it passes, the City attorney said.

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