Santa Monica Airport Lawsuit Updates from December 2016

A lot of people ask us “what’s the status of the Santa Monica Airport lawsuit with the city?”

We wrote this blog up to bring you some of the latest news updates from November and December 2016.

Feel free to comment below with questions you have. We will use them to write our next blog post.

Latest Airport News Dec 13, 2016

LA Times: FAA orders a halt to evictions of aviation companies at embattled Santa Monica airport

The Federal Aviation Administration on Tuesday ordered Santa Monica to halt the evictions of two aviation companies at its municipal airport until the agency can finish an investigation into the city’s effort to shut down the facility. FAA officials issued an interim cease-and-desist order to stop the ouster of Atlantic Aviation and American Flyers, two major providers of aircraft services, including fuel, flight instruction, hangars and amenities for charter operators. The move to evict the companies is part of the city’s strategy to force out aviation tenants, reduce aircraft flights and shut down the oldest operating airport in Los Angeles County by July 2018. If the evictions go forward, the city plans to replace Atlantic and American Flyers with its own municipal aviation company and sell bio-fuel for jets and unleaded gas for propeller planes to reduce aircraft emissions.

Source: Los Angeles Times by Dan Weikel - December 13, 2016 4:50 PM PST

The airport fight will now take a short holiday break until January 3rd, 2017:

Lookout News: Santa Monica Decides to Delay Court Fight Over Airport Tenant’s Eviction

Sparking complaints about its resolve to close Santa Monica Airport, the City has decided to delay until early January a fight it started in October to evict key aviation-related tenants. A Superior Court judge was to decide December 1 on a preliminary injunction stopping the City from ousting Atlantic Aviation, which along with American Flyers has been ordered from SMO as part of the City’s path toward eventually closing the airport. No order. however, was issued, said Nelson Hernandez, the senior advisor to City Manager Rick Cole on the airport. He said Atlantic Aviation and the City decided together to continue the issue until January 3rd. In doing so, the City gains time before confronting the possibility of a ruling that could stop the evictions, Hernandez said. ("City in Holding Pattern as Two Santa Monica Airport Tenants Defy Eviction," October 18, 2016).

Source: The Lookout News By Niki Cervantes Staff Writer - December 7, 2016

Here is KPCC’s coverage of the evictions:

KPCC: Santa Monica evicts private airport operators

Santa Monica is evicting two companies that handle most day-to-day enterprises at its municipal airport.

The 30-day notices to vacate airport premises went out Thursday, marking a significant step in the city's long-running campaign to shut down the airfield whose runway is within several hundred feet of homes. Atlantic Aviation and American Flyers are the airport's fixed base operators, meaning that they had master leases to operate airplane hangars, sell jet fuel and rent space to flight schools and offices on airport land.

The city has declined to enter long term leases with the companies since the middle of last year, so they were operating under short term holdover agreements. Those agreements were terminated with Thursday's order to vacate the airport within 30 days. The private companies are pushing back.

Source: KPCC By Sharon McNary -- September 15, 2016

Evictions have not gone as planned for the City:

Lookout News: City in Holding Pattern as Two Santa Monica Airport Tenants Defy Eviction

The refusal of two aviation-related tenants to exit the Santa Monica airport as ordered left the City in a holding pattern on Monday as officials, already being federally investigated over the evictions, decided what to do next. Atlantic Aviation and American Flyers Flight School received 30-day eviction notices September 15 in the wake of a City decision to take over the aviation support services they provide at SMO ("Major Santa Monica Airport Tenant Issued Eviction Notice," September 16, 2016).

But with the October 15 deadline lapsed and the tenants still operating, the next step will be determined by the City Council at its October 25 meeting, said Nelson Hernandez, the senior advisor on airport issues for the City Manager’s Office. Included in the vote was a City takeover of aviation-support services at SMO.

Source: The Lookout News By Niki Cervantes Staff Writer - October 18, 2016

While the City of Santa Monica sues to evict these two businesses, the City also is interviewing to replace all of the jobs with city employees (paid for by local taxpayers). Read on:

Lookout News: City Doubles Down as Santa Monica Airport Battle Intensifies

Faced with a new federal probe, evicted tenants who refuse to go and more potential litigation in the long battle to close Santa Monica Airport, the City on Monday decided to do this: Advertise for a big new SMO job the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) says should not exist. And the City seemed upbeat as it started its applicant hunt...

“Are you, or perhaps someone you know, looking for a great job and career? A job that pays a very competitive salary (up to $134,000 per year) plus outstanding benefits at a beautiful location?”

Nelson Hernandez, a senior advisor on airport affairs for the City, said in an email… ...per Hernandez said the City will soon post as many as 24 more jobs related to its decision this summer to take over “fixed-base” operations at SMO, which followed with eviction notices to SMO’s major remaining aviation tenants.

Source: The Lookout News By Niki Cervantes-- November 1, 2016

In effect, the City plans to provide flight operations services itself, shuttering private businesses so it can offer the same services (on the taxpayer dime).

Twenty-four new City jobs, and the purchase of heavy equipment needed for aircraft operations that the City does not currently have.

An opinion piece in the Santa Monica Observer, expresses another point of view on this topic:

Santa Monica Observer: We Are At War With the FAA Over SM Airport. Does The City Attorney Want to Win or Lose?

The City is pursuing a questionable strategy, but one that I support. It is setting up the City's own "fixed base operator" (FBO) to replace Atlantic and American Flyers. In other words, the City will provide certain services to jets and propeller aircraft.

On the one hand, a City FBO successfully follows FAA rules. It has kept the FAA from issuing the Cease and Desist Order. It will force out Atlantic Aviation and American Flyers. And when they leave, they will take most of their customers with them, hugely decreasing flight operations. Hooray for the City Council.

On the other hand, there is no legal requirement for the City to set up an FBO to rid itself of Atlantic and American Flyers. A City FBO will needlessly extend flight operations. After all, they explicitly agreed to the "surrender clause" in the lease agreement requiring them to leave in July 2015, some 17 months ago. There is nothing the FAA can do, or they can do, to prevent the City from prevailing on the merits. David Goddard advocates this position. Creating the City FBO is just one more legal hoax, he says, and he is 90% right.

...I have repeatedly urged the City to prepare for this possibility – get in a massive response full of documents and legal arguments to the FAA, to create the proper administrative record as required by law, before the expected court action. We are at war.

Source: Santa Monica Observer By Jonathan Stein December 9, 2016

Is the City’s FBO a “hoax”? Would the City spend hundreds of thousands of of taxpayer dollars on a hoax? What do you think of the City’s plan?

From the Los Angeles Times Opinion page, Sep 23rd, 2016

LA Times Editorial: Santa Monica should stop trying to run its airport into the ground

The city of Santa Monica loaned its general aviation airport to the federal government during World War II for less than a decade. Yet city leaders have spent the five decades since then, on and off, at war with Washington over who controls the storied 100-year-old Santa Monica Airport — and the right to close it down. The 227-acre single runway airfield, which doesn’t handle commercial airline traffic, serves recreational and professional pilots, tiny propeller planes and sleek corporate and chartered jets… While Santa Monica’s claims to control of the airport are in court, the city should honor what the FAA says is its legal obligation to run it well — not into the ground in an obvious ploy to discourage people from using it.

Source: The Los Angeles Times Editorial Board Sep 23, 2016

More reporting from the LA Times, September 27, 2016:

LA Times: FAA will investigate Santa Monica's 'starvation strategy' to shut down its municipal airport

The Federal Aviation Administration announced Tuesday that it would investigate Santa Monica’s so-called starvation strategy that could close the city’s embattled airport within two years. It also issued a sharply worded warning for the city to put the brakes on the pending eviction of two airport businesses, a move some see as the first steps in Santa Monica’s plan...

Source: Los Angeles Times By Dan Weikel September 27, 2016

The airport’s operations took a 5% dip from the same month last year:

Lookout News: Santa Monica Airport Operations Slowly Rise, Report Finds

SMO handled 8,280 aircraft operations [in October 2016], a five percent dip from the same month last year but still part of a steady rise in aeronautic traffic since 2012, the operations report to the City’s Airport Commission said. Propeller aircraft and helicopter use at the airport dropped slightly.

Source: The Lookout News By Niki Cervantes Staff Writer - November 30, 2016

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