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Court removes restraining order in Santa Monica caseCourt removes restraining order in Santa Monica case

A temporary restraining order halting the construction to shorten the runway at California's Santa Monica Municipal Airport—one of the nation’s most historic airports—has been lifted despite the amicus or “friend of the court” brief that AOPA and the National Business Aviation Association filed supporting the delay. The groups argued that possible state law violations relating to the runway construction warranted a delay while the city of Santa Monica's alleged misconduct was reviewed by the court.

Santa Monica Municipal Airport. Photo by Chris Rose.

In what the Santa Monica Airport Association called a “shameful backroom deal,” the city council met in secret earlier this year and approved the runway shortening agreement. The $3.5 million project to take the runway from 5,000 feet to 3,500 feet was slated to begin Oct. 9, but was then delayed by the city until Oct. 18. The project was delayed again by a temporary restraining order obtained in the lawsuit filed by local residents Karen Scott and James Babinski. Scott and Babinski maintain that under California’s public utility code, safety and environmental implications associated with the runway construction had to be aired in a public forum before beginning construction.

The amicus brief sought to inform the court of the importance of ensuring that airport operators comply with local laws when making any changes at the airport, especially as they may relate to the environmental and safety implications stemming from a newly configured runway and realigned and adjusted traffic and flight patterns. A 3,500-foot runway will force pilots to fly at lower altitudes, closer to residential homes, which would lead to more noise complaints.

“The Santa Monica City Council is now wasting millions in tax dollars on a move that will only increase traffic, congestion, and pollution for the citizens of Santa Monica. Not only is a lot of money being wasted, but money will also be lost when the restricted use of the airport deprives the citizens of the economic, employment, and emergency services advantages that had historically been provided from the airport.” said AOPA General Counsel Ken Mead.

As a designated reliever airport, Santa Monica Municipal accommodates traffic from Van Nuys Airport and the already heavily congested Los Angeles International Airport. With a shortened runway intended to keep what the city estimates to be about 44 percent of jets out, the question of where these aircraft will go remains uncertain.

As stated in the brief, AOPA has more than 4,500 members who live within a 50-mile radius of Santa Monica Municipal Airport, many of whom have their airplanes based at the airport or fly into and out of the airport regularly. “It’s important that all our members, transient pilots, and the surrounding communities are made fully aware of the implications of a shortened runway and are given the opportunity to voice their views on what shortening the runway may mean to them,” Mead said.

This is the second amicus brief that AOPA has filed recently in support of preserving access to the Santa Monica Municipal Airport, a battle that has been raging for decades. Despite the city’s relentless and costly pursuit to close the 100-year-old airport, there are those who value its significance and contributions and will continue to fight to keep it available to serve the needs of the community and the national transportation system.

Tim Walsh, a former manager of the Santa Monica Airport and an AOPA member since 1981, understands the rich history of California’s most historic airport and thinks it’s a shame that the city intends to close such a national treasure.

According to Walsh, “From its founding in 1919 as Clover Field to its unique war effort and Douglas Aircraft production in the 1940s to its position today as the GA reliever to LAX, [Santa Monica Airport] has consistently provided support to its community. In 1994 during the Northridge earthquake which closed Van Nuys, SMO stepped up as an emergency facility. This airport is an irreplaceable critical transportation infrastructure and its loss will be felt strongly.”

Walsh managed the Santa Monica Airport from 1990 to 1996 and helped execute a grant agreement with the FAA in 1995 to replace the original deteriorating pavement built in 1942. That is the same pavement the city is proposing to ultimately destroy as part of the runway shortening agreement.

Despite the lawsuit and amicus brief filed by AOPA and NBAA supporting it, a preliminary injunction was denied and the city will resume with its plan to shorten the runway immediately.

AOPA Communications staff

Topics: Advocacy, Airport Advocacy, Airport

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