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Santa Monica Airport Ass'n v. Santa Monica, City of

Citation: 9 ELR 20763
No. No. CV-77-2852-IH, 481 F. Supp. 927/16 ERC 1930/(C.D. Cal., 09/10/1979)

In an oral opinion, the court upholds four municipal ordinances directed at regulating the noise level at the Santa Monica airport but overturns a ban against jet aircraft. The City of Santa Monica, owner and operator of the airport, enacted a night curfew at the airport, a weekend and holiday ban on certain types of touch-and-go operations, a ban on helicopter training, SENEL noise level limitations, and a complete ban on jet takeoffs and landings. The court rejects plaintiffs' preemption arguments, concluding that a municipal airport proprietor may control airport noise if it is done reasonably and nondiscriminatorily. British Airways Bd. v. Port Auth. of New York, 558 F.2d 75, 7 ELR 20512 (2d Cir. 1977); National Aviation v. City of Hayward, 418 F. Supp. 417, 6 ELR 20649 (N.D. Cal. 1976). As to the equal protection and Commerce Clause challenges to the five ordinances, the court first establishes its standard for review. For equal protection purposes, the court regards the ordinances as economic regulation and adopts the standard in City of New Orleans v. Duke, 427 U.S. 297 (1976), whereby the regulation and the classification established thereby must be rationally related to a legitimate state interest.For Commerce Clause review, the court adopts the three-step test in Hayward, supra, whereby the first step is to determine whether there is an effect on interstate commerce; thesecond step is to determine whether the legislative body acted within its province and whether the means of regulation chosen are reasonably adapted to the ends sought; additionally, the court looks at whether the interest being protected is matter of peculiar local concern; the third step is to balance the burden on interstate commerce against the local interests supporting the regulations. The court finds that except for the ban on jets each ordinance imposes only an indirect, incidental, and insubstantial burden on interstate commerce, does not discriminate against interstate commerce, and thus survives the three-step Commerce Clause review. The court considers the "domino effect" argument that similar airports may enact similar ordinances if the Santa Monica ordinances are upheld but rejects this contention as too speculative. The night curfew, weekend-holiday ban, and helicopter training ban survive the equal protection challenges because they are rationally related to a legitimate state interest. The court finds, however, that the jet ban is unconstitutional on both grounds because it imposes an impermissible burden on interstate commerce, and it is not rationally related to a legitimate state interest, especially considering that the newer type of executive and business jets compare favorably in noise level with propeller planes that are allowed to use the airport. Finally, the court rejects challenges based on grant agreements made pursuant to the Federal Aviation Act and alleged rights of plaintiff under airport leases.

The full text of this opinion is available from ELR (48 pp. $6.00, ELR Order No. C-1203).

Counsel for Plaintiff
Robert N. Cleaves
4676 Admiralty Way, Suite 801, Marina del Rey CA 90291
(213) 821-0892

Counsel for Plaintiffs-Intervenors National Business Aircraft Ass'n and General Aviation Mfrs. Ass'n
Judith Richards Hope, Gloria P. Stewart
Wald, Harkrader & Ross
1901 N St. NW, Washington DC 20036
(202) 828-1200

Counsel for Defendant
Richard Knickerbocker, Samuel Streichman, Ass't City Attorneys
1685 Main St., Santa Monica CA 90401
(213) 451-4704

Hill, J.