Using the format that proved successful in Los Altos last week, city staff distributed detailed, factual materials to the public on arrival, then presented the material in a detailed briefing. The crowd remained focused and polite, although audience Q & A in Bixby Knolls was more pointed than at the Los Altos meeting (see transcript of salient Q & A, below).
The meetings occurred as American Airlines and Alaska Airlines have requested permanent flight slots above the now maxed-out (flying or reserved) 41 noise budgeted daily flight slots for large aircraft, using a city appeal procedure. That could bring the issue to the City Council...and (if either airline doesn't like the outcome) potentially to court.
A number of audience members openly questioned City Hall policies that had aggressively promoted LB Airport and worked to fill its vacant flight slots (transcript excerpt below), neither of which was legally required.
And as at last week's Los Altos community meeting, several residents stressed health and safety impacts including airborne toxics and pollution.
Transcript excerpts follow:
Councilman Rob Webb
...We want to assure you that our City Council is here to address the concerns, and there has been criticism, quite frankly, that we have been reactive in nature and have not been proactive in standing up for the concerns of the citizens. We are here to let you know that we as a City Council...have locked arms as a City Council to protect the residents' concerns... [after intervening remarks by O'Neill, below] ...[Councilwoman Jackie Kell] came up with an idea, actually, to lead an effort -- Jackie Kell and myself and Councilmember Carroll [also includes Colonna] -- are going to have an issue on the Council agenda for this Tuesday [May 14] to have a resolution affirming this city's position for 41 flights as a maximum, and we will be taking that to Washington, D.C...and part of our message that we're sending to legislators, regional planning people, the FAA...
This issue has been litigated...Many years ago, the airport was sued by the airlines for being too restrictive, and sued by the residents for not being restrictive enough and being too noisy. The settlement that came from that [which expired in January 2001]...came up with 41 flights. 41 flights is the most flights this airport has ever had...
...We feel that we've done our part, quite frankly, and we're trying to be good neighbors with the airport, and we're asking the airport users to be good neighbors with us...
[Councilman Carroll and I] are working hard to come up with plans, so we are not sitting, being reactive, waiting for a lawsuit to happen, but are meeting with consultants, attorneys. I am having lunch, in fact, next week with Skip Keesal, who was the attorney pro bono for HUSH, which was the original neighborhood group that sued the airport, and so he's providing factual information and historical information.
We're gathering information from all the experts. You know, I don't think it's time to sound the alarms yet. Quite frankly, I have talked to representatives from American Airlines. They are going to be coming out to the 8th district to meet with me on [May] 15th at our field office and they're assuring us right now that their concerns are the allocation of 41 flights and that they don't want to bust that cap.
I think it's incumbent upon us to prepare for the worst and that's really what we're doing right now..
Mayor Beverly O'Neill
...We are committed to the judgement that was passed in 1995 to the 41 flight limit and the noise and the curfew...So we are here, I am here, to let you know that my commitment, and the commitment of the City Council, is to make sure that we adhere and not see [change in] any of the flight numbers or any of the curfew or noise regulations that the court had ordered.
I think that as we look at our airport and the airlines, all of sudden since 9-11 people seem to be more interested in smaller airports, more convenient airports and the Long Beach airport all of a sudden people are looking at with renewed interest. And we find that airlines are interested in our airport.
However, our slots are taken. We are going to adhere to that...We're going to use every effort that we have with our own lawyers and also consultants and lawyers to help us make sure that the will of the people and the judgment that we're going to stay at the 41...
Councilman Dennis Carroll
...It's an opportunity for me tonight to...express solidarity of Los Altos residents with your efforts to protect your homes and your families.
I view this as an assault, really, on us in Los Altos. Decisions are made on a daily and weekly basis, whether to buy a home...whether to remodel...whether to keep your child in a school where 40 planes are flying over every day and the risk of one of those things hurling in someday does exist. Planes are flying aerosol cans and we've got kerosene and ice and soot falling on our backyards just like you do.
So it is unfortunate in my view that federal law creates a touchstone for regulating flights as only noise. That is not the only consideration, and in my view also, it's time for federal law to be revisited for the practical concerns that you folks are intimately aware of.
...It's my view, and I believe it is shared by all of the City Council now, thanks to the efforts of Rob [Webb] and Jackie Kell, that this information base needs to be expanded. We really need to educate the rest of our city as to the potential consequences of what is being really forced on us at a variety of levels...
We have an opportunity, I think, to build the Ark now, rather than wait and learn our fate through the newspapers and federal court. Unfortunately, the airlines seem to have very little incentive not to sue us...We have our houses and our families and our quality of life on the table and they have attorneys fees. It's really not fair, but we are being dragged into this like it or not, so we are hoping to create a preemptive strike that will protect you...
Councilwoman Jackie Kell
...We cannot let the airlines who would like slots to increase. Their business is cash register ribbons, and our business -- we represent the constituents of Long Beach -- our business is to give you quality neighborhoods and safe neighborhoods and quiet neighborhoods.
And I want you to know we will be sending a resolution to Washington and we will do everything in our power to let the federal government know...we want [Congressional reps] to know, we want the entire city to know that we want this cap and we will do everything in our power to keep it. You can count on me to be right with Councilmember Webb and Councilmember Carroll.
During the audience Q & A period, several residents wondered aloud why City Hall was taking actions that encouraged Airlines to come to LB Airport:
Q & A
...Q: My question involves the upgrading of the airport facilities themselves. We're spending a tremendous amount of money, increasing the parking structure, and also the terminal building, I think many millions of dollars. My problem is that that makes it easier to accept more passengers and more airplanes at the airport. Why are we spending millions of dollars to increase our facility when at the same time we're trying to keep the airport at 41 flights? [considerable applause]
A: [Airport Manager Chris Kunze] All I can say is, and you don't need to agree with this at all, but as far as the Strategic Plan [goes], we want to accommodate comfortably 41 flights. We've done our forecast. We know that with the 41 flights, and 25 commuter flights, how many passengers we can expect. That's what we're building for. We're using airport funds or FAA funds to do that. We could have taken the position that we're [not going to do anything] out there, we're going to leave everything as it is, and things would get so bad that maybe we won't get the 41 flights. We have not taken that position. The Strategic Plan says not to take that position, but you can certainly take that position on your own.
Q: (continues) Chris, I take as evidence your own slots for the number of passengers over the last 20 years. We have accommodated 41 flights already with the existing facility. I mean we've demonstrated that we can do that.
A: (Mr. Kunze): No actually, but go ahead.
Q: (continuing): Well, we've come very close if we haven't, and I just can't understand why we would want to spend millions of dollars to increase what appears to be an acceptable situation.
A: (Mr. Kunze): Well, honestly, it depends on your definition of acceptable. If you spent any time at the airport, number one they had smaller aircraft and had load factors around 50%...We had level of service "F" during our peak hours...And my direction is we're going to have a regional level of service. So, if you're going to increase the number of passengers, you're going to increase the capacity. We're not overbuilding. We're designing to maintain a reasonable level of convenience for our passengers. But you're right, we could have opted in favor of doing nothing. We didn't do that, but that's a position that you all can take.
A: [Further answer from Prin. Dep. City Att'y Mike Mais]: ...The city has an obligation to maintain the airport, to accommodate the number of flights that we're supposed to take, and in this case it's the 41 plus the 25 commuters. There is no legal obligation to expand the airport of course, but we do have to accommodate those passengers that we have.
Q: (Rae Gabelich): ...Last week when I attended [the airport meeting] on the east side [of LB], you did say that the only thing we were able to address was noise. I find that really hard to believe, and I find it hard to believe that the FAA can go against the EPA and not give us something to stand on. [applause]
A: (Airport Mgr. Kunze): ...We are looked at as an industrial source for air quality, but there are certain things we can do and are required to do, for example, GPU, ground power units. The airlines use those to generate power for the aircraft when their jet engines are not going...We're required, and all airports are, to have a plan to address things that happen on the ground, for example, we have to have alternative methods of getting to the airport...But [as to] the aircraft in flight, no. It clearly is an industrial source, there are things we have to do..But again [under current federal law], you can't control the level of flight activity [based on pollution]
Q: (Ms. Gabelich): OK, but we do have recourse, so...there are other ways that we can address this.
A: (Mr. Kunze): Yes, but not numbers of airplanes flying in and out.
Q: (Ms. Gabelich): But there is an alternative...if we're willing to come together. Am I correct?
A: (Mr. Kunze): But not to control the number of flights.
Q: (Ms. Gabelich): Not to control the number of flights, but to control the activity at the airport. If the air quality is affected, because of the increased traffic, then we do have control over it especially if our local government sets their standards. Am I right?
A: (Mr. Kunze): ...We can take reasonable means to control ground emissions at the airport, but if we start becoming unreasonable...
Q: (Ms. Gabelich: OK, then do we consider doing an EIR, considering that you're talking about raising the number of passengers to 3.8 million? What does that do to our roads? And what does that do to our local environment? And then you take it back to the schools, how the schools are impacted. I was involved with HUSH and we went through this many years ago, and the studies that were done in the El Segundo area on the impact on the schools was incredible. And it was presented to the City Council and it was part of the entire package. We have to look at the whole package. And your job is to promote the airport, that's what the LB [Airport] manager should do...But we as the people who live here need to protect our community and I want to know every way that possibly can do that...
[LBReport.com note: A viewpoint advocating application of this line of reasoning in federal law was also expressed by Councilman Dennis Carroll and is transcribed in his remarks above. Following Ms. Gabelich's comments, Los Cerritos neighborhood leader Mike Kowal expressed similar EIR views. The next day, in time for Council consideration at its May 14 meeting, one the three airport related items
"Report Regarding LB Airport E.I.R. Request report from City Manager and City Attorney relating to environmental issues (E.I.R.) pertaining to the Long Beach Airport. This report should include an analysis of the environmental effects of 41 flights and possible economic impact upon adjoining property values."]