In an email to city leaders this week, the chairman of the Santa Monica Airport Commission criticized city staffers for not heeding recommendations that would substantially curtail aircraft operations.
To some extent, the city's top administrator, City Manager Rod Gould, said he doesn't refute the chairman's contention. But that's because he and the City Attorney's office believe several of the commission's proposals would incite lawsuits from the Federal Aviation Administration.
Chairman David Goddard took the extra step this week of directly contacting City Council members, asking them to weigh in on one of the commission's recommendations. Specifically, Goddard requested they place on their September agenda a of all aircraft at the Santa Monica Airport.
Traditionally, staffers pass along to the City Council the recommendations voted on by the commission and other advisory boards, but Goddard said putting the commission's requests in staffers' hands "was a poor strategy."
"The request directly to the decision makers is an attempt to insure the recommendations, and specifically the FORR, receive the appropriate consideration," he wrote in an email.
The ordinance will not be on the agenda, Gould said.
The proposed FORR is based in part on a 1998 case in which New York City successfully used its ownership powers at a heliport to reduce sightseeing flights by 47 percent, and to phase out weekend operations. In the legal battle that followed, federal courts upheld the city's action. The suit was between the city and the helicopter company; the Federal Aviation Administration did not take part.
The city attorney and planning director have said the city might be able to use its proprietary rights in trying to soften the airport's negative effects sooner than 2015. But they said the New York case "is of limited utility to Santa Monica" because New York had no contractual obligation to the FAA and Santa Monica does—at least until 2015.
"David Goddard wants to say, 'the city should take whatever steps are necessary to immediately reduce flight operations and close Santa Monica Airport and the FAA won’t care or do anything about it," the city manager said. "Neither of those are true in my opinion... we’ve concluded that if we were to take that action, particularly at this time, we would lose on many grounds."
But that's not to say the city isn't listening, Gould noted.
He said staffers are sussing out a proposal to charge landing fees to Santa Monica Airport-based aircrafts. Currently, fees for landing at the airport are charged to aircrafts not based at the airport. Once a nexus study assessing fees charged at other general aviation airports is complete, it will be presented to the City Council, he said.
Goddard's predecssor, , had also pointed fingers at the city.
When staffers commissioned two studies about the future of the airport, he said they fell short of the community's expectations. And when he asked to review materials that were to be presented by city staffers to community stakeholder groups, Gould responded, "your request and comments imply that staff cannot be trusted."