The Federal Aviation Administration has threatened legal action against Santa Monica over its effort to reduce flight operations at the city's airport, force out aeronautical tenants and close the historic facility within two years.
In a strongly worded letter Monday, the FAA reminded Mayor Tony Vazquez of what it termed as the city's obligations under federal agreements to keep the airport open at least until 2023 and treat aviation tenants and aircraft owners fairly.
"The FAA is prepared to pursue all legal remedies at its disposal if the City Council takes concrete actions to restrict leases or operations without complying with applicable federal law," wrote Kevin C. Willis, the agency's director of airport compliance.
In a statement, Vazquez said Tuesday that city officials were not surprised by the FAA's letter.
The agency "has consistently maintained their support for aviation interests despite their mandate to also protect public health and safety," the mayor said. "We will respond respectfully but vigorously to defend our rights to local control of land owned by the citizens of Santa Monica since 1926."
Supporters of closing the airport say they are concerned about noise, air pollution and the risk of a plane crashing into nearby neighborhoods.
Willis took issue with the City Council's decision last week to close the airport by June 30, 2018, if possible, eliminate the sale of leaded gas and create a city-run operation to replace two private companies that provide aeronautical services, such as fuel, maintenance and aircraft storage.
The letter points out that the city has been leasing airport facilities to non-aviation uses while not providing leases to aeronautical uses. Aviation tenants are paying rent on a month-to-month basis, and the city has notified them that they can be evicted any time.
Willis referred to a recent FAA decision that requires the airport to stay open until 2023 to comply with conditions of a $240,000 federal grant the facility received in 2003.
He also mentioned the federal transfer agreement that was reached with the city when the U.S. government returned the airport to Santa Monica after using it during World War II. The document states that the city must keep the airport open in perpetuity.
Both agreements require the city to treat aviation tenants and aircraft owners "on fair and reasonable terms and without unjust discrimination."
City officials say they will challenge the FAA's decision related to the grant requirements in U.S. District Court. Santa Monica already has sued in an attempt to wrest control of the airport from the FAA. The matter is pending in federal court.
Willis further requested that the city submit its airport leasing policy and plans for an exclusive city-run aviation company to the FAA for review.