A strategy of divide and conquer could be the best bet for a quieter, smaller, jet-free after 2015.
That's the essence of one legal scenario presented Monday at the Airport Commission's workshop on SMO's future, the panel's contribution to the city's airport visioning process.
Santa Monica resident and business litigation attorney Jonathan Stein contends the key operating agreements between the city and the Federal Aviation Administration don't apply equally to the three parcels of land that make up the airport.
Stein says the 1948 Instrument of Transfer that returned the airport to the city after World War II applies only to the airport's northeast, the General Aviation Parcel. He believes it's the only parcel affected by the FAA requirement that the city operate an airport "in perpetuity." The parcel includes more than half the runway.
According to Stein, the southeastern Non-Aviation Parcel, and the western City Owned Parcel (including the rest of the runway), will revert to city control on July 1, 2015, .
A 1981 City Council resolution (never rescinded) states its intent to close the airport as soon as possible. That led to the 1984 agreement, with its 30-year life span. Stein said the FAA would not have asked for that temporary agreement if it believed the earlier "in perpetuity" mandate applied to all three land parcels.
As for the FAA's argument that a 1994 "grant amendment" extended the 1984 agreement to 2023, Stein dismissed it as "a bit of nonsense."
Leases at the Santa Monica Airport are all written to expire in 2015. Stein maintains the city could then fulfill its obligation to operate an airport with a shorter runway and fewer aviation services, meaning a cleaner, quieter, safer facility.
"Two-thirds of the airport can go away in 2015," he said, characterizing the 1984 agreement as "a failure of democracy."
In another presentation, land use attorney Phillip Tate said the city may also have options to reduce the airport's impact under proprietary laws in order to lessen its liability for negative impacts on the community. Tate formerly worked with Los Angeles City Councilman Bill Rosendahl, .
Could Santa Monica shut down parts of the airport to defend itself against a lawsuit over pollution and ?
Tate believes that's "a good argument," but, "I believe the FAA would fight it pretty fiercely."
Still, he said, it will be easier for the city to stiffen regulation of aircraft operations after the expiration of the 1984 agreement.
City Manager Rod Gould has criticized the commission's effort to expand the visioning process beyond staffers' designed program. Commissioners feel the city's initial visioning plan would have left some options for the airport's future unexplored.
"Possible litigation regarding closing SMO and alternate future uses for the airport'' are outside the duties of the Airport Commission, according to Ivan Campbell, the City Attorney's representative at commission meetings.
Phase 2 of the visioning process, aimed at gathering public input, ends May 8, when the City Council will receive a summary of themes developed from 32 city-sponsored focus groups. Phase 3 involves finalizing the city's approach to 2015.
The commission adjourned its meeting Monday night in memory of its late chairman, Richard Brown, .