FAA Tells Santa Monica It Must Operate Airport Through At Least 2023
City Had Hoped To Repurpose 227 Acres Of Airport Property To Other Uses
The city of Santa Monica, CA has been told in no uncertain terms by the FAA that they cannot close the airport and open up its 227 acres for redevelopment until at least 2023, and likely not ever, according to a communication sent by the agency to city government.
The agency says that the city failed to bring the suit in a timely fashion. “This lawsuit, which involves a recorded real estate instrument signed by the plaintiff over 65 years ago, should be dismissed. To begin, that recordation, and subsequent conduct over half a century, belies any notion that the case was timely brought under the Quiet Title Act,” the FAA wrote in its letter to the city. “That statute allows suits against the United States to resolve disputes about title to real property in which the United States claims any interest (with exceptions not relevant here) only if the plaintiff sues within twelve years of learning of the federal government’s interest. In 1948, plaintiff City of Santa Monica (City) signed a recorded instrument that documented the United States’ interest in the City’s airport (SMO or the Airport Property). Plaintiff’s knowledge in the 1940’s, and in the decades since, of the transaction giving rise to its claim here squarely triggered the QTA’s statute of limitations.
“Consequently, this case is jurisdictionally deficient because it was brought too late. In addition, the case is unripe because the property continues to be used as an airport and, thus, the option that permits the United States to decide whether it takes title and right of possession of the Airport Property as well as other rights under the 1948 Instrument of Transfer has not occurred.”
The FAA also said the “Surplus Property Act” does not apply in the case, as the property in question continues to be used as an airport. The agency added that the federal government has made substantial investments in the airport since it was established in the 1940s, and that the obligation for the most recent grant would not expire until 2023.
Santa Monica Next reports that city officials said, based in the ‘Instrument of Transfer’ signed in 1948, the government should have no further stake in the airport. But the FAA said that same document requires the city to maintain the property as an airport into perpetuity. The agency also cites a 1962 opinion from the Santa Monica City Attorney that the city has always known that it may not ever close the airport.
Santa Monica had also attempted to use a “home rule” argument with the FAA, saying the federal government was dictating what it could do with the property. The FAA said that even if that were the case, it would be an issue for the Court of Federal Claim, not U.S. District Court.
The FAA called for the dismissal of the suit, and asked for a hearing February 10 before Judge John F. Walter. He is being asked to look at decades-old documents filed by both sides that contain “barely legible pages” created pre-1950.