Council Hasn't Pursued -- But Could And Should Seek -- Overdue Responsible Measures To Better Protect LB's Airport Ordinance Before Inviting Int'l Flights is reader and advertiser supported. Support independent news in LB similar to the way people support NPR and PBS stations. We're not non-profit so it's not tax deductible but $49.95 (less than an annual dollar a week) helps keep us online.
(Jan. 19, 2017, 12:35 p.m.) -- A city management proposed action carrying long-term, potentially permanent consequences for the City and its residents is coming to a City Council vote on Tuesday, Jan. 24. In our opinion, unless five responsible Councilmembers add overdue, prudent, responsible protective measures to what's currently proposed, it could become one of the worst self-inflicted wounds in recent Long Beach history.

The action is on the Jan. 24 Council agenda because Councilwoman Stacy Mungo made a Dec. 6 motion, seconded by Councilwoman Suzie Price, that blindsided the public by exploiting an exception in state law agendizing requirements to escalate a decisional vote, which they didn't have to do. In that maneuver, Councilmembers Mungo and Price were joined by Councilmembers Gonzalez, Pearce, Andrews and Vice Mayor Richardson, ignoring dissents by Councilmembers Austin, Uranga and Supernaw.

As currently proposed in this agendizing memo, non-elected city staff asks LB's elected Councilmembers whether to allow a federal customs facility inviting international passenger and/or cargo operations at LB Airport without including any prudent, reasonable, additional measures to protect the City's protective Airport ordinance. LB's Airport ordinance, which all Councilmembers verbally profess to support, currently protects the City and its residents from unlimited flights at all hours at all noise levels on all runways. A Council majority can accept, amend or reject city staff's proposed action on Tuesday night.

Uncontrollable growth is, quite literally, the definition of cancer. No responsible person or City invites uncontrollable growth because it's portrayed by self-interested parties as pleasurable, or profitable or "feasible."

So what are the risks of uncontrollable operations at LB Airport if a Council majority says "yes" versus saying "no" to a federal customs facility? The answers won't be found in a self-described "feasibility study" generated by an Airport-hired consultant. The more important document is a 7 page memo from the City Attorney's office, part of which isn't credible but part of which is extremely serious and can't be easily dismissed.

The non-credible portion of the City Attorney memo states:

Some have postulated that by approving a FIS [Federal Inspection Service] facility, economic competition by air carriers or other users of a customs facility could lead to litigation if all competing air carrier or general aviation interests could not be accommodated at such a facility. However, there are no facts to support this scenario, and it is just as likely that other economic factors, currently existing in the air carrier or general aviation industry could span litigation whether or not a customs facility is built and operated at LGB. [Source: City Att'y Oct. 4, 2016 memo, p. 6]

We disagree. The City Attorney offers Councilmembers Russian Roulette reasoning to pretend it's not riskier to load the revolver with two, three or four bullets instead of one. In February 2015, former Long Beach Airport Advisory Commissioner Doug Haubert, an attorney experienced in municipal law who's now LB's City Prosecutor, told LB's Airport Advisory Commission exactly how allowing international operations could pose additional risks for LB's Airport ordinance. (Mr. Haubert didn't try to upstage the City Attorney; he was asked a question and gave his reply.) reported Mr. Haubert's testimony in detail at this link; nearly two years later, to our knowledge no other LB news outlet has reported his words, which speak for themselves and can be read here.

In our view (which many LB residents appear independently to share) it's self-evident that enabling an entirely new class of powerful international passenger and/or cargo interests to seek LB flight slots that are currently filled and thus unavailable under the ordinance obviously increases the risk of a challenge to the ordinance. It's simply not credible to pretend otherwise.

That's bad enough, but there's a worse outcome described in legalistic terms in the City Attorney memo, the real-world consequences of which some may not grasp:

Although the existing regulatory provisions of the Airport are "grandfathered" under ANCA [federal Airport Noise and Capacity Act], any limitations placed on the origin or destination of flights at the Airport could arguably be determined by the FAA to be an amendment to the regulatory environment at the Airport that "reduces or limits aircraft operations" and, therefore, any such action or amendment would arguably not be [emphasis in original] exempt from ANCA and could jeopardize the grandfather status of the existing regulations...[Source: City Attorney Oct. 4, 2016 memo, p. 4]

What does this mean? Without conceding the point, the City Attorney calls it "arguable" -- says it could be argued by others -- that if the City Council doesn't allow a customs facility enabling international destinations, FAA officialdom [or unstated, a federal court] might conclude that by not allowing a customs facility, LB has violated the grandfathering provision of ANCA that lets Long Beach (and only a handful of other U.S. Airports) maintain local Airport ordinances.

If Long Beach were to lose its ANCA grandfathering, Long Beach would no longer have the ability to maintain any protective Airport ordinance. That would leave Long Beach legally unable to limit flights at its own Airport in any numbers, at any hours, on any runways at any noise levels.

In other words, the ANCA-scenario would unleash uncontrollable consequences from our own Airport.

The Haubert-described scenario would be nearly as bad. If the City didn't lose its ANCA grandfathering, it might retain some ability to enact a weaker LB Airport ordinance, perhaps with (speculation) more flights, more noise, more pollution and fewer protections for the City and its residents to suit a challenger(s)...armed with a gun at our head, handed to it by some Councilmembers.

If that happened, the City Attorney's memo describes what could happen next:

...[I]f there is a successful challenge to the Noise Ordinance, the City could re-institute a sound attenuation program to install sound installation in homes and other noise sensitive uses located in high noise impact aras. Under this ype of program, the Airport would typically provide examples and demonstrations of replacement doors and windows, ventilation systems and other sound insulating construction. The City would then contract with the property owner to install the insulation in return for an aviation easement...[Source: City Attorney Oct. 4, 2016 memo, p. 6.]

If you live in parts of LB's 3rd, 4th, 5th, 7th and 8th Council districts, is THAT what you want for your family's most important investment?

Faced with these potential long-term consequences, it should be self-embarrassing for otherwise intelligent people to prattle about "feasibility" or fantasized "economic benefits" or where one airport tenant might or might not fly.

Some city officials offer the cliche that LB faces risks whether it says "yes" or "no" to a customs facility, but that's not prudent or businesslike. No responsible business invites potentially catastrophic risks and then sits back and waits for them to arrive.

No responsible Councilmember should vote to set this City on a potentially damaging course without FIRST assuring that the City has pursued and taken every possible step to avert or reduce risks to the City and its residents. To date, the City of Long Beach hasn't done part because a City Council majority hasn't voted to direct this. On Jan. 24, it can...and should.

Long Beach residents shouldn't let Council incumbents treat serious matters of this magnitude like Doris Day singing a 1950's children's song "Que Sera Sera" ("whatever will be, will be.") Jan. 24 is an opportunity for more responsible Council voices -- before authorizing actions that could put the City on a potentially irrevocable course -- to first direct the City Attorney and City Manager to pursue and report back to the Council on overdue, prudent and responsible measures that might better protect LB's Airport ordinance, this City and its residents.

As of now, that hasn't happened. We think it can and should happen. We think there may be room for some common ground. It's overdue. Further to follow.

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