Sharon McNary KPCC
Santa Monica Battles FAA for Right to Control Airport Land
January 22, 2014
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  • Santa Monica’s legal case to control future use of its airport land is heavy with language about quitclaim deeds and statutes of limitations. But the heart of its case against the Federal Aviation Administration is this: the city shouldn’t have to run an airport forever.

    The jet that crashed into a Santa Monica Airport hanger and killed four last year added urgency to the city’s ongoing campaign to reduce or end flights there. City leaders have been engaging the public in talks about alternate uses for the airport for the past several years. But it was an open question whether they would be able to halt flights.

    City officials had been trying to get the FAA to embrace a non-airport potential future, but in October, the city sued the agency.

    The city argues that it owns the property, and should be able to halt flights and change the land’s use when the current operating agreement expires in July 2015.

    The FAA responded asking the federal court to dismiss the city’s complaint.

    The city signed a deed in 1948 to regain airport land that had been leased to the federal government during the war. The FAA argues the deed included a key condition — that the city keep using the property for aviation.

    The FAA also argued that the city had asked — and been granted — permission to remove parcels from the aviation use condition three times in the past several decades. That, the federal agency says, indicates the city acknowledged it needed federal permission to deviate from the deed.

    Santa Monica says it is unconstitutional for the FAA to require the city to use the land as an airport forever.

    The FAA’s dismissal motion and the city’s response will be heard Feb. 10 in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles.