Explanation of the lawsuit against the AOPA petition

CASMAT has requested a summary of the upcoming lawsuit in opposition to the deceptive ballot initiative and the current aggressive signature gathering effort in Santa Monica.  Apparently these paid professional signature gatherers are getting $4 per signature, funded by the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA), a national aviation industry lobby group.  CASMAT strongly urges you not to be deceived by this petition and not to sign it.

Opposition to the AOPA ballot initiative is on-going on a number of fronts, and by numerous local community organizations (see here).  One of those fronts is a lawsuit by Jonathan Stein, Attorney for Jim Redden and other plaintiffs.  If you wish to join as a plaintiff, then please read the long-form for a fuller explanation, or call Jonathan at 310-587-2277 or email at jstein@jsteinlaw.com. 

Link: Deceptive AOPA ballot initiative
Link: City Summary of AOPA ballot initiative

Related news links:

Santa Monica Airport Referendum Steeped in Controversy (SM Lookout, April 30, 2104)
Santa Monicans for Open and Honest Development Aren’t (SM Dispatch, April 30, 2014)
AOPA, SMO and the Faults with the California Referendum Process (SM Next, April 29, 2014)
Don’t Sign the Phony Airport Initiative (The Healthy City Local, April 26,2014)
Why you should not sign the Airport Initiative (CASMAT, April 24, 2014)
Non-residents seek local support for initiative (Santa Monica Dispatch, April 21, 2014)
Residents advised not to sign airport-related initiative (SM Dispatch, April 20, 2014)
SMRR Says No to Airport Ballot Initiative (Santa Monica Lookout, April 17, 2014)
SMO Supporters … Uniting SaMo…Against Ballot Proposal (SM Next, April 16, 2014)
SMRR opposes pro-airport ballot initiative (Santa Monica Daily Press, April 16, 2014)
SMRR opposes deceptive aviation industry initiative (Airport2Park.org, April 16, 2014)
Group to challenge SMO initiative effort (Santa Monica Daily Press, April 14, 2014)
Ballot Initiative to Preserve SMO to Face Legal Challenge (SM Lookout, April 14, 2014)
Desperate Times, Measures, Companies .. Rent Corporate Jets (Healthy City, Mar 28, 2014)
AOPA financed … ballot initiative petition filed shortly after City Council defeat! (CASMAT)

Local organizations that have recommended their members NOT SIGN the AOPA petition (so far – stay posted!):

Airport2Park Member Organizations:

Other Local Organizations:

Neighborhood Organizations: (see map below)
Friends of Sunset ParkMid City NeighborsNortheast Neighbors, Wilshire Montana Neighborhood Coalition, Ocean Park Association, and Pico Neighborhood Association.

The text below is the summary of the lawsuit against this initiative as provided by Jonathan Stein.

Goals Of The Lawsuit
All leases and fuel sales at Santa Monica Airport terminate in July 2015.  Under City Council actions taken on March 25, 2014, new Airport leases must follow leasing policies modeled upon the light manufacturing and studio zone nearby.  Fuel sales would end. 
The reason that the AOPA Petition is so outrageous is it seeks to hide the provisions that would preserve below-market aviation leases before they expire by their terms.  It would preserve sales of jet fuel (ultrafine particulates) and propeller leaded fuel (airborne lead particles).  The AOPA Petition says it is to prevent overdevelopment of Airport land.  But a thorough reading shows otherwise.  
The petitioners assume that this fundamental misrepresentation and enough money can gather enough signatures to win through deception in a small-town election.  We asked the City Attorney to require petitioners to amend the AOPA Petition to remove such misrepresentations.  In a fair-minded and good faith exchange of well-circulated emails, the City Attorney explained her legal duties and refused. 
The courts are a natural and frequently-used branch of government when citizens are faced down in such a cynical fashion and other officials refuse to act. The goal of the lawsuit is simply to force the petitioners to amend the AOPA Petition and then re-circulate it in a lawful form after the final judgment of the Court.  Given the awkward mechanisms of democracy, and provisions of Elections Code §§9255 and 1415, the next ballot is June 2016 at the earliest.    With airport leases terminated, one wonders whether there would be anyone to finance this uphill battle.

Parties To the Lawsuit

We hope that there will be more than 10 plaintiffs and up to 50 plaintiffs.  Plaintiffs must be registered voters in the City of Santa Monica and over age 18.
Defendants fall into two groups.  The first are the “real parties in interest”.  These are the three petitioners that submitted the AOPA Petition to the City Clerk and are circulating it now.  
The second group are certain officials of the City of Santa Monica, acting in their official capacity only.  We believe in the good faith of City officers.  We name them only to fulfill technical legal requirements for “blameless defendant” lawsuits.

Causes of Action In The Lawsuit
Application For Writ Of Mandate Or Prohibition (City Council).  Because the AOPA Petition contains false statements, misleading statements, or statements in violation of law, or was circulated in a manner that violated law, the Court is requested to prohibit the City Council from any future action to (i) order any upcoming election ballot which submits the AOPA Petition to a vote of Santa Monica voters; or (ii) adopt any ordinance, charter amendment, or other order to submit any like-worded charter amendment to a vote of Santa Monica voters.
Application For Writ Of Mandate Or Prohibition (City Clerk).  For the same reasons, the Court is requested to prohibit the City Clerk from (i) accepting the AOPA Petition and its signatures for filing; or (ii) certifying the sufficiency of the AOPA Petition to the City Council. 
Complaint For Declaratory Relief (AOPA Petition language).  The AOPA Petition contains false statements, misleading statements or statements not in conformance with law. As a result, the Court is requested to (i) make this declaration; (ii) require Petitioners to amend the AOPA Petition to conform to law; and then (iii) re-circulate it for signatures in 2015 or 2016.  
Application For Peremptory Writ Of Mandate (City Attorney Must Use “Professional Skill and Judgment”).  The City Attorney made clear in widely circulated emails that she acted only in a “ministerial” capacity to produce a ballot title and summary, regardless of the unlawfulness of the AOPA Petition.  Since at least 2008, a City Attorney’s duty is to use her “professional judgment and skill” to determine the lawfulness of the AOPA Petition.  The Elections Code provides for a writ of mandate because the City Attorney “neglected a duty” in connection with the AOPA Petition.

Any Downside To Being A Plaintiff??
Of course there is.  You are standing up for what you believe in and others may disagree.  You should only be a plaintiff if you believe that the AOPA Petition is deeply flawed.  If you think it is just a little flawed, the law allows small defects, and no one should start a lawsuit over minor points. 
The long-form explanation attached shows the many AOPA Petition statements that are challenged.  If you think any one of those is an important statement that is false or misleading then please join as a plaintiff.  Or if you think that the AOPA Petition as a whole masquerades as an anti-development measure when it contains many provisions having nothing to do with re-development of Airport land, then please join as a plaintiff.
Regarding a financial downside, there is next to none.  There are very, very few instances where a plaintiff is held accountable for legal fees, or penalized for filing in a complaint so frivolous it falls outside of the First Amendment right to petition the government.  Filing a complaint is perhaps done too often, but that is because it is one of the most protected ways for a citizen to petition his government for change. Again, please read the long-form for a fuller explanation or call me at 310-587-2277 or email at jstein@jsteinlaw.com. – Jonathan Stein, Attorney for Jim Redden and other plaintiffs.

2 thoughts on “Explanation of the lawsuit against the AOPA petition

  1. Mark Stocket

    Support the airport. We don’t need more real estate development or traffic in that location. The airport is a treasure. Besides being a crucial general aviation site and an irreplaceable logistics location in emergencies large and small, it adds millions to the economy and is the most interesting thing in Santa Monica. (Yes, we have enough boring, mediocre restaurants and condos, thank you. Life is really about more than that.) As for safety, name one non-aviation person ever killed in a neighborhood next to the airport by flight training. (Yes, it’s difficult — there is no such person.) Meanwhile there are thousands of motorcycle accidents; leafblowers and barbecues pollute more; and we have far more pedestrian, boating, and bicycle deaths.

    1. John Post author

      Mark, please don’t waste our time with the same old FUD. There will be no development on that land, the City is putting forward an alternative initiative that will ensure that cannot happen without public approval. This is public land, not private land, and as such it will not be developed in the same way.

      The specious claims of economic benefit are based on a flawed HR and A study that merged aviation and non-aviation revenues, and modeled aviation income using tourism percentages from commercial airports like LAX. I’d be amazed if more than a handful of tourists arrive via SMO each year.

      According to HR and A, aviation represents just 1 of 42 industry sectors at SMO, and with 178 jobs is 19% of total jobs. The HR and A data shows aviation benefits could be replaced by a single medium sized office building. It is aviation proponents that are fabricating (or at least misquoting) facts to suit their purpose.

      All that revenue they quote from the HR and A study, it comes from non-aviation activity on the airport campus, much of it from sub-leases on aviation land! If the airport closed, it wouldn’t hurt the City economy whatsoever, but as far as the continuing losses sustained by the City itself, it would be a huge benefit.

      It takes 4,600 square feet per aviation job at the airport. Leased to commercial tenants (average 250 square feet/job) that same space would support more than 3,000 additional jobs. Of course we wouldn’t want that many jobs there, but the math is indisputable.

      Moreover, if existing buildings were leased by the City directly non-aviation tenants at market rates, the City would bring in $5-10 million extra revenue per year. Right now aviation businesses pay around 15 cents per square foot, it would be closer to $4 if not for the handcuffs imposed by the 1984 agreement. Total losses to the City, somewhere around $100 million over two decades. Thats on top of the $13 million in City subsidies the airport has racked up in the last decade. On July 1, 2014 the agreement ends and it is high time the City subsidized aviation gravy train ended too.

      The truth is the airport is an economic disaster no matter how you look at it. Closing it would be a massive economic boon both to the City and the surrounding economy.

      As for safety, over 70% of all the fatalities that have occurred at SMO happened since the year 2000. Clearly the airport has grown beyond its limits and is now out of control. Since 1982 when records began, there have been approximately 50 fatalities associated with SMO. In one three day period last April 3 separate planes from SMO crashed killing 2. That same September a jet crashed at SMO killing 4. If it had not first hit a hanger, it would undoubtably have plowed into houses and killed many more. There are no safety zones at SMO (a violation of FAA safety guidelines) and there are houses within 300 ft of each end of the runway. In the last couple of months, two jets similar to those that fly out of SMO crashed and skidded over 2,000 feet off the end of runways in the US. If those incidents had happened at SMO (which has a shorter runway that in both of those cases), the trail of devastation could have extended almost to Marine Park, that is 6 blocks full of houses!

      This airport is an industrial relic left over from WW2. After the war, Douglas Aircraft moved because the location no longer made any sense. It makes far less sense now. The airport simply needs to be closed down for the good of all.

      All the petitions and lawsuits by AOPA and other aviation interests are acts of desperation by entitled minorities that do not care about Santa Monica or its residents. They want their gravy train to continue, but on July 1, 2015 it ends.