Enforcement of the ordinance banning the larger, faster “Category C and D” aircraft from Santa Monica Airport (SMO) was temporarily restrained by the United States District Court in Los Angeles on Monday, April 28, pending a May 15 hearing on whether to further continue the restraint by way of a preliminary injunction.
In the wake of actual court litigation between the City and the federal government, Mark Young, who chairs the City’s Airport Commission, resigned that post inasmuch as he is an Assistant United States Attorney by profession. The resignation was announced at the Airport Commission meeting Monday night; Susan Hartley stepped up from vice chair to chair responsibilities.
These are the latest developments following the City Council’s final approval of the ordinance on March 25 and the issuance the following day of an administrative Order to Show Cause by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), which contends the ordinance is unlawful. [Santa Monica Mirror, April 3-9, 2008]
On April 21, the FAA wrote to the City objecting to an April 14 notice from Airport Manager Robert Trimborn to aeronautical users of SMO to the effect that the ban on “Category C and D” aircraft would become effective on April 24. The FAA said, “Moreover, your attempted enforcement of the City’s Ordinance also suggests a complete disregard for the FAA’s authority and responsibility as the final arbiter of aviation safety in the National Air Transportation System,” and threatened to issue a cease and desist order if the City did not withdraw the notice.
City Attorney Marsha Moutrie responded to the FAA on April 22 that the City intended to enforce the ban inasmuch as “[t]he City must keep the Airport safe and is simply attempting to implement the FAA’s own safety standards.” She added, “Your assertion that this effort is undertaken to divest your agency of jurisdiction reveals stunning self-absorption or institutional paranoia.”
The FAA countered on April 23 by issuing an 11-page “Interim Cease and Desist Order” directing the City to cease and desist from enforcing its ordinance and to “publically [sic] withdraw” its notice to airport users pending “a final agency decision” in the FAA proceedings that were initiated in October 2002 and re-started by the March 26 Order to Show Cause.
Less than an hour after the City received the Interim Cease and Desist Order, a Justice Department lawyer from Washington, D.C. was on the phone to the City inquiring as to the City’s intentions. When told that the City intended to enforce the ordinance the following day, he gave notice of the federal government’s intent to seek a restraining order in federal court. No citations were issued under the ordinance between the time of that April 23 telephone conversation and Monday’s April 28 hearing that resulted in the Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) issued by District Court Judge George Wu in Los Angeles.
The TRO prohibits the City from enforcing the ordinance banning the larger, faster “Category C and D” aircraft from using SMO while the City and the FAA present further legal briefs to Judge Wu for a May 15 hearing, at which he will decide whether to enter a preliminary injunction that would remain in effect for a longer period. Judge Wu said that he was “in no position, either under the law or by invitation, to forecast the merits of the [FAA] Interim Order and its terms.” The City can seek substantive review of FAA decisions by application to the United States Circuit Court of Appeals for either the Ninth Circuit (which generally covers the western states) or the D.C. Circuit in Washington, and Judge Wu said that he had “no power to adjudicate either the substantive merits or the procedural regularity leading up to the [FAA’s] issuance of the Interim Order.”