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Judge Throws out City's Suit Against FAA over Airport

The lawsuit questioned whether the Santa Monica was required under agreements with the federal government to operate the land as an airport in perpetuity.

A judge dropped the city's lawsuit against the Federal Aviation Administration over ownership claims. Patch file photo.
A judge dropped the city's lawsuit against the Federal Aviation Administration over ownership claims. Patch file photo.

Santa Monica's lawsuit against the Federal Aviation Administration seeking to clarify ownership of its municipal airport was thrown out today by a federal court judge in downtown Los Angeles.

U.S. District Judge John L. Walter dismissed the case largely on technical grounds, ruling that one of the lawsuit's claims was barred by a statute of limitations, other claims must first be presented to the U.S. Court of Federal Claims and others were brought prematurely because the city had not yet made a decision on whether it plans to close the airport.

Questions have been swirling about the airport's future, with many residents clamoring for the facility to be closed over safety and noise concerns. Those concerns were amplified on Sept. 29, when four people died in the crash of a private plane into a hangar shortly after landing.

The lawsuit, filed in October, questioned whether the city was required under agreements with the federal government to operate the land as an airport in perpetuity.

According to the city's lawsuit, Santa Monica leased the airport to the federal government during World War II, and local and federal officials made improvements to the facility. After the war, the airport was returned to the city under an “instrument of transfer,” but federal officials contend that document calls on the city to operate the airport “in perpetuity.”

City officials dispute that claim, contending the city has owned the land for nearly 100 years, and the property was merely leased to the government during the war.

FAA officials said the agency's position on the facility has been that the city should keep operating the airport until at least 2023 because of assurances that were made when the city received federal airport-improvement grants. The agency has also contended that the city is bound to continue operating the airport beyond 2023 under the terms of the post-war agreement in 1948.

The city is in the midst of a multi-year study of the airport's future, with city staff expected to report back with recommendations in March for public and City Council review.

Santa Monica officials said they were disappointed with the court's decision.

“The court's ruling is being carefully evaluated by the legal team consisting of our outside litigation counsel ... and in-house legal staff,” City Attorney Marsha Moutrie said. “Of course, we are disappointed. But, there is likely much work to come, and attorneys representing the city are already looking forward and focusing our energies on the city's options.”

--City News Service

Danielle Charney February 17, 2014 at 07:12 PM
never turn down a hug- just fed up with crooks and liars- fed up with Texas money- we deserve better- we need a really good investigation starting when Gould came in - as to every department and hire- every single one- I don't trust HR- the CA or any of them- a bunch of 'yes men'- it's time for the good staff- and there are plenty to start blowing the whistles - enough of this- now I will take that hug- and what bugs me - not one paper- not one is doing an overall piece on "follow the money - to the top of the trouble"- there are pieces on this or that- but we need a really serious one done- and soon- these fools need to "hit the road Jack"
SoCal Spotting February 22, 2014 at 02:55 AM
Thank you! Screw those Neighbors and Greedy Developers. "It will turn in to a park" is the biggest BS I have ever heard. Probably one of the most valuable pieces of property in LA County. Anyways this airport is not going and I hope all the jet traffic increases to bug the neighbors even more. You get what you deserve when you move next an airport.
pilot_rick February 22, 2014 at 08:24 PM
It's time to end the fantasy of this unicorn sanctuary. The city has spent more money on fruitless litigation than on operating SMO. It's time to stop wasting valuable tax payer resources and embrace the airport!
Craig McCoy February 22, 2014 at 10:10 PM
It seems that only those that are opposed to the airport are the ones who bought a house nearby knowing you were going to live near an airport! A bigger issue is how light rail has destroyed our city. Driven down Olympic or Colorado lately? And we are going to trust The City Counsel to take over the airport and put that land to good use? Those fools would rather build a thirty story hotel on that site. Do you really think they would turn it into a park? Time for a reality check people. They are destroying our once quaint city piece by piece. It's a sad reality.
Craig McCoy February 22, 2014 at 10:25 PM
Maybe the city can get Frank Gehry to build on the site. His house on Washington and 22nd did wonders to ruin my neighborhood.

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