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Aircraft Firm Ends Long Legal Battle With Deal

By JEFF WEISS Staff Reporter After 13 long years packed with contentious negotiation, litigation and steep legal fees, the saga between Van Nuys-based Syncro Aircraft Interiors and Los Angeles World Airports is over. In a recently negotiated settlement, Syncro will be provided with a 30-month lease for its space at Van Nuys Airport, with an option to extend for 30 more months. The company will pay $309,724 a year in rent. The settlement approved by the Los Angeles Airport Commission by a 4-1 vote, stipulates that both the city and Syncro will dismiss claims against each other. The agreement is pending until the City Council signs off on the deal. “I wasn’t exactly happy with the settlement, but settlements are usually a compromise. We had hoped for a longer term lease with better terms, and equitable rates,” Barbara Cesar, Syncro’s president and CEO said. “I’m paying double the land rent of any other aviation business at the airport. I have to invest a considerable amount of money into the facility to make it tenable. It’s going to be difficult in such a short-term lease.” Conversely, the city seemed pleased with the results of the settlement. “This is a good result for the city. It settles a long standing dispute and allows the airport to recover fair market value in lease payments. We also wanted to make sure that the airport had the ability to use the property in the future in regards to master plans for the land,” Josh Perttula, special assistant to the city attorney said. Syncro, an aircraft interior refurbishing company, was founded in 1978 and came to Van Nuys in 1990. The company sought to build “personalized in-flight environments” for aircraft from Cessna 172s to Boeing 737s. They counted Michael Ovitz, Kevin Costner and John Travolta among their clients. Trouble with the city began in 1992, when airport officials said the company could no longer use a hangar it leased at 7701 Woodley Ave. for aircraft storage because a planned road would prevent aircraft access. Syncro responded to the limitation by subleasing portions of the space to movie producers, and the hangar became the site of shoots for “True Lies” and “Air Force One.” This activity roused LAWA’s ire, causing it to serve Syncro with a 60-day notice of termination on its leases in March of 1997. The fight escalated in August 1999, when the Board of Airport Commissioners approved the solicitation of proposals from other businesses for the lease of Hanger 902, putting pressure on Syncro to leave the property. Aiming to halt the eviction, the company filed suit in Los Angeles Superior Court the same month. The city filed a cross complaint in February 2003, alleging breach of contract and unpaid enrichment. It sought $1 million in compensatory damages and about $4.4 million in unpaid lease payments up to December 2002, plus $53,959 for each additional month afterward. Syncro then added other claims, including breach of contract, interference with contractual and economic relations and finally, wrongful death. That last claim came following the May 2002 death of Ed Cesar, who co-founded the business in 1983 with his wife, Barbara. Cesar suffered a massive aneurysm. According to the suit that Syncro filed, two days before his death Cesar learned that LAWA intended to tear down the sizable hangar which housed Syncro. After over a decade of acrimony, Barbara Cesar expressed her chagrin at the final result, but maintained her belief that Syncro remained in the right. “My husband was a very proud man and we did what we felt needed to be done for justice. I don’t want to finger point, but we had to fight for what we worked so hard to build. We invested a huge amount of time and effort and had our employees and their families to think about,” Cesar said. “I wish I hadn’t had to go through with it. The hardest part is knowing that we worked so hard in developing a business. We created jobs and provided a beautiful product, yet we were labeled as if we did something wrong. It’s painful.” As for the future, Cesar remains hopeful that LAWA will change its tune, and allow the business to continue after its five-year lease expires. “My hope is that the city will see the benefits of the company, because we service the major airfields and have a very good reputation for high quality work and on time service. We’re a very ethical company and we hold a very good standing in the eyes of the aviation community,” Cesar said.

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