Santa Monica, California, has diverted airport funds, charged excessive and unreasonable landing fees, and denied leases on airport property, according to a new Part 16 complaint filed by a group that includes AOPA, the National Business Aviation Association, and airport businesses and tenants.
“Simply put, the City has created a financial structure which imposes enormous, ongoing, unsustainable—and clearly impermissible—financial burdens and deficits on the airport…,” the Feb. 5 complaint states.
According to the complaint, the city has charged Santa Monica Municipal Airport principal and/or interest on purported loans for which there is no valid documentation, charged rates of interest exceeding those allowed by FAA policy, and even charged interest on loans purportedly made to the airport more than six years before the loan documentation.
The complaint, which asks the FAA to take “any and all actions” necessary to ensure that the city is in compliance with its obligations as the airport sponsor, also says that the city has imposed excessive and unreasonable landing fees calculated using improper methodology, adopted those fees without reasonable notice to airport users, and in some cases effectively double charged users for services already paid for by other means.
The complaint also says the city of Santa Monica has allowed a nonaeronautical tenant to pay less than fair market rent for use of airport property, denied new leases, imposed short-term leases without justification, and unreasonably delayed all aeronautical lease policies and approvals.
The new complaint comes less than a week after parties to a different Part 16 complaint filed in 2016 responded to the city’s appeal of an FAA determination that the airport is federally obligated and must remain open at least until 2023. AOPA was also a party to that earlier complaint.
The city of Santa Monica has long tried to close and redevelop the 227-acre airport, which supports some 175 businesses and 1,500 jobs, and contributes $250 million to the economy. But many city residents support the airport and some have raised concerns that closing the field would lead to additional high-rise developments, bringing more traffic problems to the already congested region. The protection zone around the airport currently prevents high-rise buildings from being constructed within about five miles of the airport.