Santa Monica officials remain firm in their collective decision to continue to push forward with an ordinance that would regulate the usage of certain airplanes at the Santa Monica Airport.
After the City Council unanimously passed the ordinance in March that would have prohibited Categories C and D airplanes from landing and taking off at the airport, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) filed a cease-and-desist order against the city, and subsequently went to federal court on April 25th seeking a temporary restraining order that would halt the enforcement of the ordinance.
Categories C and D aircraft include the Gulfstream IV and Cessna Citation.
U.S. District Judge George H. Wu granted the FAA order on April 28th, but allowed Santa Monica officials the opportunity to appeal the decision.
“Plaintiffs are entitled to a temporary restraining order enjoining the city’s enforcement of its ordinance because they are not merely likely to succeed on the merits of their claim against the city, they are certain to do so,” FAA authorities submitted in court documents. “The city is squarely in violation of 49 U.S.C. 46105(a), which requires compliance with an order issued by the FAA until such order is amended, modified or set aside either in the ongoing administrative process or by the Court of Appeals.”
Wu, in siding with the federal agency, noted that the city had not filed an action with the court at the time of his decision.
“The city argues that because it has not filed a petition, the exclusive jurisdiction of the Ninth Circuit [Court] has not taken effect,” Wu wrote in his verdict. “While that may be true, this court has jurisdiction to consider the procedural or substantive merits of the interim order. The statutory scheme plainly rests with the Department of Transportation, the FAA, or the city if it files a petition with the Court of Appeal.
“Thus, until the city files a petition with the Washington, D.C. or Ninth Circuit, jurisdiction over the matter remains at the governmental agency level.”
A Thursday, May 15th hearing has been set to allow Santa Monica the opportunity to present its case for enforcing the airport law before the court.
Santa Monica deputy city attorney Martin Tachiki believes that the city has a strong case going into the May 15th court hearing.
“We feel that we have many good points to make about the lack of safety on our airport runways,” he said. “Our runway is not designed to handle the faster aircraft that have been using our airport.”
Tachiki said Wu’s April 25th verdict was a preliminary decision, “which is a normal part of ongoing litigation.”
The ban was scheduled to go into effect on April 25th, the same day the restraining order was filed. Santa Monica authorities decided to forego implementing the ordinance because of the impending legal action.
“The U.S. Attorney moved very quickly to go to court to stop the ordinance,” said Richard Bloom, Santa Monica mayor pro tem. “Everyone agreed that it would be best to wait and see what transpired at the hearing.”
Concerned residents who live near and around the airport are maintaining a vigilant stance on what they feel is a crucial decision regarding their health and safety.
Martin Rubin, executive director of Concerned Residents Against Airport Pollution, is one of several who will be watching the city’s response to the court ruling.
Rubin remains discouraged that the FAA has not installed what many feel are adequate safety measures on the runways, which could help prevent airplane overruns.
“For [the FAA] not to have proper runway safety areas and continually push the limits of what the runways can take with such a high concentration of residential neighborhoods near the runways is very disturbing,” Rubin said.
Ensuring the safety of its airport personnel and its residents are their top priorities, say city officials. They contend that because there are no safety devices to prevent an airplane from leaving the runway and crashing into nearby homes, the ordinance was a necessary action.
The FAA maintains that high-speed jets have operated safely out of Santa Monica for nearly two decades and that the safety measures the government has offered can mitigate any concerns that residents or elected officials may have without imposing a ban on certain aircraft.
“Our attorneys can’t recall any city that has gone as far as Santa Monica has,” said Ian Gregor, an FAA spokesman.
The FAA has proposed installing safety devices at one end of the runway, a move that the council rejected in March as being inadequate. Kirk Schaffer, the FAA associate administrator for airports, made a presentation before the Santa Monica City Council in which he displayed a 70-foot safety device, called the Engineered Materials Arresting System (EMAS) in a PowerPoint presentation, which would have been installed only at the departure end of the Runway 21.
“Santa Monica Airport is a safe airport and it continues to get safer,” Schaffer told the City Council. “Overruns are quite rare compared to the number of operations in the United States and around the world, for that matter.”
Chris Dancy, the media director for the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA), said that his organization has been following the case and will continue to monitor the proceedings.
“A number of our pilots are keeping us informed regarding the court case,” Dancy told The Argonaut.
Rubin, who attended last month’s court hearing and plans to go to the May 15th proceeding, feels, like quite a few others, that the time has come to address safety and quality of life matters for residents who live near the airport.
“The runway safety issue is something that is long overdue,” he said. “And the argument that the city is making regarding runway safety also applies when it comes to air quality and air pollution,” Rubin added.
The pilots and owners association, an individual pilot membership organization with over 400,000 members that opposes the airport ban, supports Hu’s decision to restrain Santa Monica officials from prohibiting Categories C and D airplanes from the airport.
“AOPA is committed to seeing that the Santa Monica Airport is kept open in accordance with the FAA’s policy,” Dancy said. “We stand ready to assist the FAA if we are asked.”
Kate Vernez, assistant to the Santa Monica city manager for community and government relations, said before the court hearing that the city’s elected leaders were equally determined to pursue all available legal strategies to enforce the ordinance.
“The City Council remains committed to protecting the safety of its airport operators and its residential communities near the airport,” Vernez pledged.