Judge orders Santa Monica Airport runway shortening delayed

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Many residents of Santa Monica have long objected to the noise and pollution from jets using the city's municipal airport. The city had recently begun making preparations to shorten the runway as a step toward eventually closing the facility permanently.

Santa Monica had planned to start removing 1,500 feet from the 5,000-foot runway beginning Oct. 18. But a federal court order has put that work on hold. 

The shortened runway was the result of a consent decree the city reached with the FAA. After years of litigation, the agreement paved the way for the airport to eventually close. Cutting the runway down was an interim step.

Two pilots who use the airport, Kate Scott and James Babinski, sued the city for negotiating the deal to shorten the runway in a closed-door meeting with the FAA. Neither could be reached for comment Monday. The lawsuit was initially filed in Los Angeles Superior Court but later moved to U.S. District court.

The lawsuit claims the city's settlement agreement and consent decree with the FAA violates Public Utilities Commission regulations, which require changes in airport permits to be subject to a public hearing, according to the filing in U.S. District Court.

The two plaintiffs oppose the runway changes because it would force pilots to fly lower and closer to homes, they said in the filing.

On Sunday, U.S. District Judge Ronald Lew ordered a halt to the runway shortening until a court hearing can be held in the next two weeks. The city has denied its decision violated open meeting requirements. The city intends to challenge the work stop order, said Suja Lowenthal, an assistant to the City Manager.

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