Legal representatives for the City of Santa Monica have chosen a Washington D.C. federal court as the venue where it filed its appeal for the right to implement a ban on certain jets from Santa Monica Airport.
The legal briefs, which were filed with the District of Columbia Circuit April 8th, are the continuation of a two-plus year battle between Santa Monica city leaders and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regarding safety measures — or the lack thereof — at the city-owned airport.
“The FAA is based in Washington D.C., and it rules on a lot of matters with the FAA,” explained Deputy City Attorney Lance Gams. “Our outside counsel is also based there, and since the D.C. Circuit is more familiar with FAA matters, we felt it was our best chance to have the case tried there.”
City officials could have opted to try the case in California’s Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.
The legal challenge revolves around safety at the airport runway. Santa Monica Airport has no protection at the end of its runway, which is situated within less than 300 feet of residential neighborhoods.
City officials feel that Sunset Park neighborhood residents and others who live near the runway are in jeopardy of a jet overrunning the runway and crashing into nearby homes.
The Santa Monica City Council unanimously voted to prohibit aircraft from categories C and D, which are the faster and larger jets, from departing or arriving at the airport in March 2008 in an effort to protect homeowners residing within the airport’s proximity.
Airplanes that travel with an approach speed of 121 knots or greater, but less than 141 knots, are listed under Category C. Category D airplanes have speeds of 141 knots or greater, but less than 166 knots, according to the FAA.
The federal agency immediately appealed the ordinance, which began a yearlong process of court rulings and hearings by the FAA.
A Superior Court judge granted the federal agency’s motion to set aside the council’s ordinance in May 2008 and that verdict was later upheld. In subsequent hearings before the FAA administrator, the decision to strike down the jet ban was also upheld.
Cathy Larson, who lives in Sunset Park, was aware that the city’s fight with the FAA could be a prolonged one.
“I’m not surprised by the timeline,” said Larson, a music teacher who is also the chair of the airport committee of the Friends of Sunset Park. “This timeframe is what the city attorney’s office told us several months ago. Unfortunately, the courts don’t move with a lot of alacrity.”
Santa Monica City Councilman Kevin McKeown, who has been the most outspoken member of the council regarding what he and others perceive as the FAA’s refusal to provide adequate safety measures, cast his city’s legal challenge as a battle between David and Goliath.
“We are a small city trying to protect our residents and our neighbors, up against the ultimate 800-pound gorilla: the federal government,” McKeown said. “Simply put, we figured we’d have a better chance in a courtroom where they’re used to seeing gorillas and are less intimidated by them.”
Marcy Winograd, who is seeking to unseat incumbent Jane Harman in the 36th Congressional District, has called on lawmakers and celebrities to sign a “no jets pledge” in support of residents who want to see fewer jets at the municipal airfield for environmental as well as safety concerns.
The pledge has been adopted by Concerned Residents Against Airport Pollution, a grassroots organization that has drawn attention to the number of jet traffic at the airport and the level of toxins emanating from the airplanes’ engines.
Candidates for the 53rd Assembly District, which includes Mar Vista, Marina del Rey and Westchester, have all signed the pledge, where the signatories promise not to fly jets to or from the airport.
Ian Gregor, a FAA spokesman, said his agency continues to maintain the same position regarding the ordinance that it has since the legal case began.
“We have always been, and continue to be, confident in our legal position,” Gregor said.
Larson said that although she understands that the legal process can be a lengthy one, she and others remain disappointed that the case against jets at the airport has yet to be resolved.
“It’s very frustrating, to say the least,” Larson said.
The FAA has yet to respond to Santa Monica’s filing. Gams said that oral arguments are expected to begin in the fall.