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CurbedWire: Downtown Church/Apartment Site, Santa Monica Airport Battle

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DOWNTOWN: Above is a shot of 1010 Flower in downtown, the possible future home of a new cathedral and 14-story apartment. As mentioned earlier in the day, the new church will be grand but modern, a "21-st century cathedral," church officials tell us. [Curbed InBox]

SANTA MONICA: The legal battle over jets and neighborhood safety at the Santa Monica airport heats up (even more) today with the news that the city is challenging the FAA over the airport's lack of runway safety areas (RSAs) to protect against overruns. Among other things, the city is pushing to reduce "the risks arising from the lack of safety areas," an important problem given "that homes sit just below and within 300’ of the runway ends...." Full angry press release from the city of Santa Monica after the jump.[Curbed InBox]


April 7, 2008


Contact: Kate Vernez, Assistant to the City Manager, Community & Government Relations, 310-458-8301

Robert Trimborn, Airport Manager, 310-458-8591

Marti Tachiki, Deputy City Attorney, 310-458-8336


Santa Monica, CA - Today, the City of Santa Monica filed declarations, a 40-page legal brief, and hundreds of pages of exhibits with the FAA, opposing the federal agency’s legal assault on a recently adopted city ordinance protecting public safety by conforming use of the Santa Monica Airport to federal airport design standards.

The city-owned airport has no runway safety areas (RSAs) to protect against overruns. The ordinance reduces the risks arising from the lack of safety areas, the fact that homes sit just below and within 300’ of the runway ends and the dramatic increase in the number of faster planes using the Airport. The ordinance enhances safety by preventing faster aircraft, in the C and D categories, from using the airport.

One of the declarations, from safety expert and former Chairman of the National Transportation and Safety Board James Hall, attests to the importance of runway safety areas and to the NTSB’s repeated, but unavailing, efforts to convince the FAA that RSAs should be required. Mr. Hall concluded: “In my opinion, in the absence of meeting the federal standards for RSAs at Santa Monica Airport, Category C and D aircraft should not be permitted to operate due to the serious risk of injuries and to occupants of the aircraft and members of the community resulting from aircraft operating on the margins of safety with no provision for the possibility of mechanical failure or pilot error.”

The City Council adopted the ordinance on March 25, 2008, following a presentation by FAA officials on their safety proposal and a lengthy public hearing at which Airport neighbors expressed their fears of a catastrophic overrun.

The City has been negotiating with the FAA since 2002 to find a safety solution. During that time, the number of Category C and D aircraft using the airport has increased by about 30%. After five years of negotiations, the FAA finally acknowledged the safety concerns of the city and airport neighbors. However, it responded with a “non-standard” safety proposal, which would move the runway platform even closer to the neighborhoods and create steep drop-offs at both runway ends, further exacerbating the risk. Council rejected the FAA proposal as insufficient to ensure safety according to the federal government’s own standards – standards to which the city, as airport proprietor, would be held in any litigation arising from a runway overrun.

The day after the Council adopted the runway safety ordinance, the FAA reinstituted an administrative complaint it had filed in 2002 to stop the city’s safety program. On March 26, the FAA issued an “Order to Show Cause”, giving the city just ten days to file evidence and arguments demonstrating the legitimacy of the new ordinance. The city asked for more time, and the FAA denied that request.

The city’s submission to the FAA argues that airport operations are governed by the 1984 Settlement Agreement between the city and the FAA, which only requires the city to accommodate slower aircraft at the airport. The FAA, as a party to that contract, cannot adjudicate contract compliance. Additionally, the city argues that the FAA is disqualified from adjudicating the validity of the ordinance because the FAA Airports Administrator Kirk Shaffer has already prejudged the matter, stating in a letter to the city that the ordinance is “flatly illegal.” A declaration signed by City Manager P. Lamont Ewell attests to the facts which show the FAA’s bias.

The city further argues that the FAA’s attempt to coerce the city into continuing to accept C and D operations, without the safety precautions mandated by federal standards, violates the Tenth Amendment prohibition against the federal government commandeering local resources; and, in protecting the traveling convenience of a few at the expense of the safety of many, the FAA violates the Congressional mandate requiring the FAA to make safety its first priority, ahead of the economic interests of the aviation industry.

The ordinance will go into affect on April 25, 2008. The city anticipates that litigation will follow.