All They Want is ‘LOCAL CONTROL’

The Mayor of Santa Monica lays it out very clearly, in an article published by a local paper, The Argonaut. The 1/6/2016 article presents a set of questions to community leaders, asking them to predict what citizens might expect to see during the new year on important Santa Monica issues. Here is the response by Mayor Vazquez:

What will happen next in the city’s battle
with the FAA over Santa Monica Airport?

– by Tony Vazquez

“The controversy over the Santa Monica Airport will continue into the New Year and most likely for years to come. The facts are Santa Monicans have voted to take control over our airport land. Yet the FAA continues to favor aviation interests to the detriment of the health and safety of the families that live near the airport.

After almost two years, including four extensions of time to render a decision, on Dec. 4 the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) finally released its director’s determination that may affect the timing of Santa Monica regaining local control over our airport. The issue before the FAA was whether the city’s assurances stemming from a 1994 FAA Airport Improvement Program (AIP) grant expired in 2014 or whether the assurances expire in 2023. According to the determination, the assurances expire in 2023. The implication is that the city must continue to adhere to federal grant assurances and operate the airport accordingly until 2023. The city disagrees with the determination.

We believe the determination is factually incorrect and inconsistent with best grant management practices. Here’s why. Airports that receive FAA grants are obligated to meet and maintain certain assurances. We understand that and have fully complied. However, federal law states that after 20 years from the date of acceptance of the grant offer, the city — just like any other FAA grantee — is no longer subject to the assurances. Santa Monica accepted the grant in 1994; therefore the determination is wrong on the facts and is not sustainable.

The determination is not the final word; it is only the first. The city is entitled to two levels of appeals within FAA. The next level would be with an FAA hearing officer. Should the hearing officer agree with the director, the city may appeal to the FAA associate director of airports. And, of course, if the FAA associate director sides with previous conclusions, the city may pursue our rights in federal court.

The City Council has yet to decide as a body whether to appeal the determination. That decision will come in 2016. As mayor, I can say the city is fully committed to realizing the will of the voters, who in 2014 voted overwhelming in favor of Measure LC (Local Control).

We hope FAA senior management will rectify the agency’s initial error. Regardless, the city will keep fighting for local control over the airport land. The voters have spoken, and we will never give up!”

— Tony Vazquez is mayor of Santa Monica.

Mayor Vazquez accurately depicts the Delay-Game FAA plays, to benefit a handful of aviation interests against the health and quality-of-life interest of thousands of local residents. This is an egregious abuse of authority by FAA. The laws that Congress creates need to protect every community, to ensure they retain substantial ‘Local Control’ of their local community airport. Quite reasonably, local control should include setting the hours and intensity of use of their local airport, and protecting against pattern-noise operations such as skydiving operations or razor-thin NextGen routes. Airports need to serve communities first.

The substantial community problems around the Santa Monica Airport are caused mostly by bizjets and flight training. Frankly, these problems could easily be solved, improving both local environmental quality and safety, if only FAA would cooperate.  The solutions needed at KSMO need to go far beyond Santa Monica, as there are dozens of other U.S. communities denied local control by an FAA that behaves like an irresponsible out-of-state landlord. Notably, the jet-related impacts at Santa Monica have gone on for more than fifty years (check out this 1967 news article, showing a time when local control was asserted). Today’s FAA, using public funds to demand full-term compliance with 20-year grant assurance obligations, is sharply out of step with the need to serve the PUBLIC. Today’s FAA is using these grant obligations solely to deny local control.

Perhaps, new legislation is needed, to force FAA to restore meaningful local control. As part of that legislation, set Santa Monica free: let this community resume local control of it’s very impactful airport. Every community should have a contractual right to end obligations after 10-years, and even sooner if they refund a pro-rated portion of the grant amount.