Santa Monica Municipal Airport (SMO)

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FAA Asks Court to Dismiss Santa Monica Closure Attempt

Jan. 13, 2014

In the ongoing legal battle to preserve a key Southern California airport, the U.S. government last week filed a motion on behalf of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to dismiss the city of Santa Monica's latest effort to shutter the historic Santa Monica Municipal Airport (SMO).

In a lawsuit filed last October, Santa Monica officials maintained that the city never relinquished its title to the airport land when it leased the property to the United States government for use as a military airfield and manufacturing base ahead of World War II. As a result, the lawsuit claimed, any conditions in subsequent agreements with the FAA requiring the city to maintain the land as a civilian airport are essentially void.

The FAA motion, filed on Jan. 10, rebuts the city’s position, saying that any questions over title ownership to the airport should be settled under the terms of the Quiet Title Act, which requires any such lawsuits to be filed within 12 years after a claimant learns of the federal government's interest in the property. According to the FAA, the government first established said interest in the 1940s.

"Consequently, this case is jurisdictionally deficient because it was brought too late," the motion states.

The FAA further asserted in its motion that questions over ownership of SMO have been answered repeatedly during the past 50 years, with Santa Monica and/or the State of California having acknowledged the federal interest in SMO in legal documents dated 1962, 1975 and 1984, which each determined in favor of the FAA's position.

“We thank the FAA for taking this step to have the city’s lawsuit dismissed,” Bolen said. “Maintaining access to Santa Monica, and all airports in the nation’s aviation system, is fundamental to the companies of all sizes that rely on business aviation to succeed.”

Under terms of an "instrument of transfer" agreement signed in August 1948, which returned control over the newly expanded and modernized Clover Field military airport to the city, Santa Monica is required to maintain the facility as a civil airport, or have it revert to federal control.

The city has repeatedly attempted to close the airfield, citing safety concerns, noise and environmental issues, and questions over eminent domain procedures in various legal filings. The city has also levied a slate of fees against SMO operators.