The city of Santa Monica sued the Federal Aviation Administration Thursday in an effort to clarify ownership and control of its municipal airport, the future of which is being debated by city officials and residents.
According to the city, 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.
"We need to get these legal questions answered," Mayor Pam O'Connor said of the lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles. "The community expects us to protect their health, safety and welfare. And, of course, the community's demands for relief from airport impacts have only increased since last month's terrible crash.
"We need the court to decide whether the city has control over its land so that, next year, we can make a decision about the airport's future," she said.
Four people died Sept. 29 when a private plane crashed into a hangar shortly after landing at the airport. The crash prompted renewed calls from some residents and lawmakers to close the airport, possibly replacing it with a park.
A spokesman for the FAA said the agency does not comment on pending litigation and has not reviewed the lawsuit.
Previously, however, the FAA's position on the airport has been that the city should keep operating the airport until at least 2023 due to 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.
- City News Service