Santa Monica and Mar Vista residents will have to coexist with larger, faster jets at the Santa Monica Airport for the foreseeable future following a ruling by the Federal Aviation Administration July 8th.
The agency denied Santa Monica’s appeal to an earlier FAA decision that prevented the city from implementing a ban on airplanes that belong to categories C and D at the Santa Monica Airport.
The agency’s associate administrator, Nancy D. Lobue, rejected the Santa Monica legal team’s arguments that the city was entitled to implement a ban on specific aircraft at its general aviation airport and ruled that federal law supercedes the city’s ordinance, among other findings.
“Accordingly, the FAA hereby orders and incorporates by reference the corrective action set forth on page 67 of the directors determination,” Lobue wrote in her report.
The ruling was widely expected among many residents and Santa Monica leaders.
“It’s not surprising at all,” lamented Cathy Larson, chair of the Friends of Sunset Park, a grassroots coalition of homeowners and airport safety advocates who were instrumental in bringing the lack of runway safety devices to the public. “What makes this situation unique is that we have homes that are less than 300 feet from the runway.”
Larson was referring to the fact that there are residential neighborhoods like Sunset Park that neighbors and city officials say are vulnerable to an airplane overrunning the runway and crashing into their homes.
There are no safety barriers in place that would prevent an overrun from occurring.
City Councilman Kevin McKeown pointed out that the federal agency was in charge of the legal proceeding and was in effect judging its own policies.
“Knowing that the process with the FAA was an administrative one, completely under their own control and held by their own hearing officer, we’re not surprised that they agreed with themselves,” McKeown told The Argonaut.
Martin Rubin, a West Los Angeles homeowner who routinely sees jets flying over his backyard, like Larson was also not surprised by the ruling.
“It was expected,” Rubin, the director of Concerned Residents Against Airport Pollution, said of the FAA decision. “It’s clear that the FAA disregards the safety of those living around the airport.”
Aircraft from Categories C and D were banned from the airport on March 27th, 2007 by the City Council as city officials sought to quell complaints about safety from homeowners who live near the airport from Mar Vista and Santa Monica.
Sunset Park residents like Larson fear that their neighborhood is one of the most vulnerable due to a lack of runway safety protection and its proximity to the runway.
Categories C and D aircraft include the Gulfstream IV and Cessna Citation X and have a certain approach speed of at least 121 knots.
FAA officials filed a restraining order against the ban and on April 28th, 2008, U.S. District Judge George H. Wu granted the FAA order. Wu later upheld his ruling the following month after Santa Monica appealed the restraining order.
Earlier this year, the FAA denied a similar request by Santa Monica’s legal team to allow the city to enact its ordinance.
“We feel that the associate administrator’s decision speaks for itself,” said Laura Brown, a spokeswoman for the FAA.
Not everyone was dismayed over the FAA’s decision. Arthur Rubin, the owner of Action Air Express, said that the airport is a revenue-generating entity that has contributed greatly to Santa Monica and that a prohibition on certain aircraft would interfere with commerce at the airport.
In addition, he questioned why residents would want to live in a neighborhood in such close proximity to an airport runway.
“The airport has been here for years, longer than a lot of the residents,” Rubin, who is no relation to Martin Rubin, noted. “Why would anyone want to live near the departure end of a runway?”
City officials say that there was some good news despite the rejection of the appeal.
“The FAA found that the city did not violate its 1984 agreement, so that encourages the city’s determination to pursue the matter in federal court,” said Santa Monica Deputy City Attorney Lance Gams, referring to a contract between the FAA and Santa Monica that established a maximum noise level for aircraft.
Gams said that his department would soon confer with city leaders to see how they would like to proceed legally regarding the airport ordinance.
“We will be discussing with the City Council our options on what we might want to challenge in court,” said the deputy city attorney.
Arthur Rubin feels that an ordinance prohibiting any aircraft would be harmful to the airport and the city.
“The entire country has benefited from this airport,” he said. “It’s one of the city’s greatest assets.”
McKeown indicated that he wanted the city to remain steadfast in pursuing judicial relief at the federal level, and echoed Gams’ sentiments that the focus could be narrowed now that the administrative process with the FAA is over.
“We now have the opportunity to make our case for resident safety in a court of law, and will have to decide whether to do so in California or in Washington, D.C.,” said the councilman.
“Even the FAA’s own hearing officer was unable to support the agency’s claim that our ban on faster-landing planes violated the 1984 agreement, so we now get to focus clearly on whether banning Category C and D aircraft is necessary for the airport’s ongoing safety.”