April 25, 2016
Last week, NBAA joined other stakeholders at California’s Santa Monica Municipal Airport (SMO) in responding to a “motion to dismiss” filed by city officials against a portion of a complaint filed by airport advocates earlier this year at the FAA, alleging numerous violations of the city’s federal obligations at the historic airfield.
In their April 11 filing, Santa Monica officials argued that a new leasing policy adopted by the city council in March voids claims that the city has failed to make long-term leases available to aviation tenants at the airport by setting forth new standards under which those businesses will be allowed to stay at SMO.
Alex Gertsen, NBAA director of airports and ground infrastructure, countered the ‘new’ leasing policy, adopted March 22, does not appropriately address aeronautical leases at SMO and does nothing to change the city’s failure to comply with its federal obligations to offer such businesses and individuals long-term leases at the airport.
“Month-to-month leases create challenges for both aeronautical and non-aeronautical businesses on the field, putting numerous local jobs in jeopardy,” Gertsen said. “Airport businesses are being suppressed through the city’s attempts to drive the airport into closure, by setting subjective criteria for ‘compatibility with the surrounding community’ while providing the city manager with the power to target aviation tenants for eviction with disregard for federal grant assurances.”
In making that argument, airport supporters may have an improbable ally in the Santa Monica Airport Commission, a body typically opposed to furthering aviation-related interests at SMO.
During a March 15 hearing regarding the new leasing policy, commissioner Lael Rubin was among the commission members who questioned why Nelson Hernandez, the senior advisor to the city manager on airport affairs, could not confirm if Santa Monica officials would grant stable leases to aviation tenants at SMO, or had an appropriate method in place to determine which businesses will be given an opportunity to remain.
“They have a right to apply, just like anybody else,” said Hernandez of aviation tenants. “[It] seems to me that this basically says, ‘apply, but you know what, you’re not going to get a lease,'” Rubin replied. “There is nothing in here that says the city will lease to some aviation tenants.”
In the Part 16 complaint filed with the FAA in February, airport supporters also accused city officials of creating an untenable operating environment at SMO through “excessive fees and rents,” while concurrently offering preferential terms to a non-aeronautical local college with facilities at SMO. Interestingly, the city’s motion referred to those other key points only in passing, and did not specifically seek to dismiss them.
“Those are rather serious charges that the city has misappropriated millions of dollars, affecting not only aviation interests but the entire Santa Monica community,” said Gertsen. “Statements in the motion to dismiss infer that city officials may be conceding that they overreached, and that those policies will be reviewed and the airport reimbursed.”
The FAA is expected to either deny the city’s motion to dismiss, or to hold it in abeyance and require the city to fully respond to the complaint.