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District judge halts Santa Monica runway shortening

Senior U.S. District Judge Ronald S. W. Lew on Oct. 8 issued a two-week temporary restraining order to delay the city of Santa Monica from shortening the embattled California airport’s runway. Deconstruction was scheduled to start Oct. 9 to shorten the runway from nearly 5,000 feet to 3,500 feet, but the city had postponed the start date to Oct. 18 because of a delay with a vendor.

Santa Monica Municipal Airport. Photo by Chris Rose.

Santa Monica Municipal Airport neighbor Kate Scott and local pilot James Babinski filed an application for the temporary restraining order and for an order to show cause regarding preliminary injunction to prevent the runway from being shortened before their case against the city could be heard in court.

“AOPA applauds local residents for holding the city of Santa Monica accountable to the law under state and local codes, as well as the federal requirements,” said AOPA General Counsel Ken Mead. “Saving the Santa Monica airport requires support at all levels, from AOPA to the Santa Monica Airport Association to local residents and airport users.”

AOPA has long advocated to protect the airport and most recently in August filed a “friend of the court” brief contending that the public has a right to challenge any airport operator that disregards or fails to fulfill its obligations and responsibilities under federal law.

Scott and Babinski have filed a lawsuit against the city because the city held closed meetings with the FAA to come to a settlement agreement and consent decree to shorten the runway in violation of California law requiring permits for airport expansion, including the “acquisition of runway protection zones” and “realignment of an existing runway,” be considered in a public hearing and with the public’s opportunity to be heard. This requirement for public input cannot be waived when the project involves environmental considerations. The two assert that shortening the runway would cause “irreparable harm” by forcing “planes to fly approximately 100 feet lower in altitude, causing increased noise at the departure end of the runway near adjacent neighborhoods” and by increasing risks to pilots “by eliminating the ability to turn back to land on the departure runway in the event of engine or other mechanical failure.”

In granting the temporary restraining order, the judge ruled that Scott and Babinski would “likely prevail at trial” and decided that shortening the runway in advance of a hearing on the issues related to the public’s interest in being heard would cause irreparable harm because noise and danger cannot be adequately addressed through monetary damages.

“Before the City of Santa Monica wastes taxpayer funds on this misguided endeavor, it must ensure the foundation upon which those actions rely was properly adopted in a fair, open and democratic process,” the Santa Monica Airport Association said upon learning of the temporary restraining order. “Until that’s the case, we believe the brakes must be applied. Today, a United States District Judge agreed.”

The city of Santa Monica would purportedly spend $3.52 million to shorten the runway to 3,500 feet by the end of 2017. The judge gave the city until Oct. 13 to show why it should not be prohibited from shortening the runway while the matter of compliance with California law proceeds to trial; if the city responds, Scott and Babinski have until Oct. 18 to file a reply.

Alyssa J. Miller
Alyssa J. Cobb
The former senior director of digital media, Alyssa J. Cobb was on the AOPA staff from 2004 until 2023. She is a flight instructor, and loves flying her Cessna 170B with her husband and two children. Alyssa also hosts the weekly Fly with AOPA show on the AOPA Pilot Video YouTube channel.
Topics: Airport Advocacy, Advocacy, Airport

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