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