Following last month's fatal crash of a private jet at Santa Monica Airport, the city of Santa Monica is suing the Federal Aviation Administration over control of the neighborhood landing strip.
See also: Fiery Crash at Santa Monica Airport.
The community around Santa Monica Airport, including Mar Vista located on the City of Los Angeles side, has long been opposed to the kind of air traffic, including private jets, that affects the area. Critics maintain that the facility, surrounded by residential neighborhoods, was never designed for jets. But they have faced one problem:
The federal government.
The city says the FAA has essentially required Santa Monica to continue running the airport as is, forever, as a result of an obscure, World War II-era contract.
During wartime the city leased its circa-1920s airport to the government to support the war effort, and afterward the city got the land back.
But according to Santa Monica, the government has used “the Instrument of Transfer” paperwork as a basis for demanding that the city continue operating the airport as the FAA sees fit. According to a statement from City Hall:
The City disputes this claim based, in part, on the City's near 100-year ownership of the Airport land, the fact that the Airport was merely leased (not sold).
The city is under a separate agreement with the FAA to operate the airport until 2015. After that all bets are off, at least with this lawsuit in the mix. Santa Monica City Councilman Kevin McKeown told us this:
That decision still lies ahead. We already have a major council meeting on the issue scheduled for March 2014.
But there's certainly a shut-it-down state of mind both in Santa Monica and in L.A.
The FAA has ruled the airport with an iron fist, rebuffing efforts, even one by Westside U.S. Rep. Henry Waxman, to implement even some its own safety measures.
For example, the agency recommends a 1,000-foot buffer between airports and residential areas, but Santa Monica has just 300 feet in places. In fact, last month's fatal jet crash happened about 150 feet from homes, Santa Monica Airport Commission chairman David Goddard said at the time.
According to a city statement, the federal suit seeks to …
… establish the City's right to control future use of the Santa Monica Airport property, which the City has long owned. The lawsuit, filed in federal court in Los Angeles, asks the court to declare that the City holds clear title to the land. And, it also challenges, as unconstitutional, the FAA's claim that the City must continue to operate the Airport indefinitely, even after contracts establishing the City's Airport obligations expire.