Amnesia File

2001-2002: City Hall Cuts Secret Airport Deal, Says Enabling Council Action Won't Risk Airport Ordinance...And It Does; City Legal Team Saves Ordinance...And In 2004, Voters Toss Out Two Council Incumbents 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.
(Feb. 16, 2015) -- Consider the parallels. In 2001, Long Beach City Hall conceals from the public meetings between a prospective Airport tenant, JetBlue, and city officials. A few weeks later, an item appears on a City Council agenda that seeks Council approval to change Airport policy in a way that doesn't change the City's protective Airport ordinance. City management, and the Mayor and Councilmembers tell the public that the change doesn't directly affect the City's protective Airport ordinance.

A Council majority takes the action and, contrary to what city officials told the public, it does put the protective Airport Ordinance at serious risk. JetBlue takes all then available flight slots for large aircraft (over 75,000 pounds.) A few months later, two carriers seek Airport flight slots that under the now-filled Ordinance are no longer available.

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Elected officials go into damage control mode, organizing community meetings at schools in Los Altos and in Cal Hts/Bixby Knolls. Before standing-room-only city crowds, they profess support for the Airport ordinance that their actions put in jeopardy. City management publicly pleads with two other carriers not to challenge the City's protective ordinance in court (we include photos below from the Los Altos meeting.)

It ultimately took skillful lawyering by LB's City Attorney office in 2002, assisted by expert outside aviation counsel and cooperation from JetBlue, to resolve the very serious situation that the City had created for itself and its residents. opens our Amnesia File to recall in detail what took place when City Hall did what it told the public it wouldn't do: risk the loss of the only legal protection the City and its residents have from unlimited flights at all hours of the day and night.


The City Attorney's office legal team at that time included then-Principal Deputy City Attorney Mike Mais. On Feb. 17, 2015, now Assistant City Attorney Mais is expected to brief Councilmembers and the public in a study session on LB's Airport ordinance.

The upcoming study session was requested by Councilmembers Al Austin, Roberto Uranga and then-Assemblyman elect Patrick O'Donnell after it became known (with details reported by citing documents obtained using state freedom of information law) that LB Airport management (again) had been working secretly, and this time without Council voted approval, to lay the groundwork to (again) change LB Airport policy, (again) in a way that doesn't directly change the protective Airport ordinance. This time it lays the groundwork for allowing a federal inspection facility that would let JetBlue make international flights. If the City did this, it likely couldn't restrict the customs facility's use only to JetBlue.

In two memos in the latter half of 2013, airport management gave the Mayor and Council (but not the public) a sketchy summary of what it was doing and didn't address the arguable amplified risk to the City's protective Airport Ordinance from enabling multiple international operators to seek flight slots. There are currently no LB flight slots available under the Ordinance for large aircraft (over 75,000 pounds); they're currently all filled or nearly filled mainly by JetBlue domestic flights. LB's Airport ordinance does allow increased flights by large aircraft (and is among the most progressive local ordinances in the country for doing so) as large aircraft flights as a class become quieter which to our knowledge isn't currently the case.



In other words, if an international operator(s) sought and was denied flight slots, the result would (again) expose Long Beach's protective Airport ordinance to the risk it created in 2001...except that this time, the risk would come from an entirely new and larger category of operators...that might be less inclined to acquiesce to a settled outcome (which a few domestic carriers accepted in 2002).

Past is prologue and those who don't learn from history are condemned to repeat it. Below is what happened in 2001 and 2002. Amnesia File archival coverage follows...with an epilogue below:

(May 16, 2001) -- The City Council has engaged in its first significant public discussion of LB Airport since 1995. The nearly 45 minute long discussion included lengthy statements by several Council members, along with city staff and the City Attorney's office...

The discussion was prompted by a city staff request that the Council amend LB Airport's flight allocation rules to let airlines reserve and hold flight slots under certain conditions for 24 months instead of the current 6 months without forfeiting them if they're not operational (don't fly)...

Councilwoman Kell invited a response from the City Attorney's office on its opinion of what could happen if attempts were made to lower the 41 flight limit (a matter not before the Council).

Principal Deputy City Attorney Mike Mais warned that attempts to lower the 41 flight maximum might invite new litigation and could endanger LB's current flight and noise limits. Mr. Mais cited a federal law that he said could cause LB to lose control of its grandfathered noise and flight limits. leaving those issues to be decided by the FAA.

4th district Councilman Dennis Carroll made a substitute motion, seeking a two week delay to permit presentation of the new flight allocation rules to the community for discussion. The motion failed 6-3 (Yes: Carroll, Webb, Grabinski; No, Lowenthal, Baker, Colonna, Kell, Richardson-Batts, Shultz).

After further discussion by Councilmembers (transcript below), the motion to adopt the amended flight slot allocation rules passed 8-1 (Yes: Lowenthal, Baker, Colonna, Kell, Richardson-Batts, Grabinski, Webb, Shultz. No: Carroll).

JetBlue News Conf. 5-23-01(May 24, 2001) -- In a dramatic move that could fill LB skies with 41 commercial flights per day within two years or less, JetBlue -- a highly rated, low fare, high amenity and reportedly well-capitalized NY airline -- has made LB Airport its de facto second national hub.

Following discussions with City Hall out of the public eye, JetBlue took all 27 vacant commercial LB flight slots within days of a May 15 City Council vote (previously detailed by letting airlines hold slots up to 24 months before flying.

...Official word came at a May 23 LB Airport news conference attended by an array of LB officialdom, business and aviation interests. Those on the dais included Mayor Beverly O'Neill; Councilmembers Bonnie Lowenthal, Jerry Shultz, Frank Colonna, Jackie Kell and Laura Richardson-Batts; JetBlue CEO David Neeleman; City Manager Henry Taboada, LB Area Chamber of Commerce President Mike Murray and LB Airport Area Business Council chairman (and Airport Advisory Commission member) Curt Castagna...

Following the formal news conference, JetBlue's CEO told his firm had been in contact with the Mayor and Councilmembers prior to the Council's May 15 vote which effectively facilitated the airline coming to LB (transcript below).

With a gleaming new JetBlue Airbus as a backdrop, Mr. Neeleman promised a neighborhood and environmentally friendly operation, chided what he called "NIMBY" and no-growth positions, then praised Mayor O'Neill and Councilmember Kell for helping bring JetBlue to LB. (No City official publicly commented on Mr. Neeleman's NIMBY remark.)

...Following the podium portion of the news conference, asked JetBlue CEO Neeleman for further details on what led his company to LB. We asked if the April article in USA Today (which portrayed LB Airport as "under-served") played a role:

Mr. Neeleman: We were already in the midst of it. And when we saw that article, we said like (laughs) "No, stop, don't say it."...we were already in the throes of making our decision when that article came out. So how did it work? Did you call Long Beach Airport? Can you give us kind of the outline?

Mr. Neeleman: Yeah...WinAir was based in Salt Lake City so a lot of our employees from Salt Lake worked for WinAir, so we contacted 'em and said hey who do we talk to, they hooked us up with Kristy [Ardizzone] and we came and made a visit and things just kind of snowballed from there. And after talking to Kristy, where were the points of contact in the city?

Mr. Neeleman: Now obviously the Mayor was leading the charge and then Jackie Kell kind of led the City Council. And then we met with each of the City Councilmembers and explained our story, you know, and said this isn't just any airline and this is quiet and this is really jobs and this is growth and for the most part everybody bought it. There was some resistance to it?

Mr. Neeleman: Well, you can check the record for the vote. I'm aware of the vote, but did you meet with Councilman Carroll too?

Mr. Neeleman: Yuh, I did. And what was his reaction?

Mr. Neeleman: Well I think, you know, he understood, but you know, obviously he has his constituents, so I respect that. And then after talking to them [after making contact with the city] there was a discussion about amending the flight slot ordinance which was done and that did the deal?

Mr. Neeleman: Yes...

(April 1, 2002) -- has learned Alaska Airlines has formally requested three flight slots at LB Airport, making it the second airline to chart a potential collision course with LB's airport noise ordinance.

There are no flight slots currently available under LB Airport's noise ordinance which uses a noise budget to cap flights over 75,000 pounds to 41 per day.

Alaska's request, which seeks the slots effective September 8, follows a February request by American Airlines for four flight slots, effective June 15.

As previously reported by, American Airlines recently reiterated its request, adding, "We continue to hope that our modest request for four slots can be resolved quickly and without the need for legal action."

Alaska Airlines' correspondence does not include a similar reference to litigation. However, Alaska Airlines, which has not flown from LB Airport for seven years. was previously a party to litigation against the City over LB's Airport restrictions...

(May 3, 2002) -- In a significant letter to American Airlines made public at a May 2 Los Altos community meeting on recent LB Airport developments (separate coverage coming on, LB Public Works Director Ed Shikada has urged AA to limit any forthcoming challenge to LB's allocation of flight slots and leave unchallenged LB's Airport noise ordinance that limits large flights to a noise budgeted 41 per day.

Mr. Shikada answers to City Manager Henry Taboada and oversees LB Airport Manager Chris Kunze.

The four page letter dated May 1 (which we post verbatim on a link below) includes an extended explanation of the factual and legal background surrounding LB Airport. It is City Hall's opening public advocacy in response to escalating challenges by American Airlines, which has requested additional permanent flight slots beyond the now-filled 41 slot limit on large aircraft.

On April 29, AA issued a position paper which was made available to LB media. ( posted its text verbatim on May 1). AA and (as first reported by Alaska Airlines have both requested additional permanent slots and triggered a city administrative appeal procedure that could bring the issue to the City Council and potentially to court.

We post Mr. Shikada's letter verbatim in pdf form on a link below. We urge readers to become familiar with its points.

To view it, click on May 1 letter from LB Public Works Dir. to American Airlines.

(May 4, 2002) -- With arriving jets over Los Altos repeatedly interrupting proceedings inside the Minnie Gant Elementary School's auditorium, an overflow crowd of roughly 200 people turned out for a May 2 meeting convened by City Hall to brief residents on recent LB Airport developments.

Among the revelations: Mayor Beverly O'Neill and City Attorney's office representative both indicated that City Hall plans to retain outside legal counsel specializing airport litigation to deal with a gathering legal storm.

And in the city's opening public advocacy, City Hall released a letter from LB's Public Works Director (who oversees the Airport Manager and answers to City Manager Henry Taboada) to American Airlines, asking the firm to limit any challenge to LB's flight allocation policies and not challenge LB's airport noise ordinance...

Minnie Gant Airport meeting, May 2/02The crowd nearly filled the auditorium, with late arrivals against the back wall and out the back doors...

Councilman CarrollThe meeting was hosted by 4th district Councilman Dennis Carroll, who invited open audience Q & A with a roving microphone that he brought to audience members in Phil Donahue style. The public asked mainly focused questions, reflecting understanding of the complex subject matter.

...Near the end of the meeting, having heard the consequences LB faces from having an Airport, a number of audience members urged reexamining current city policies that promote use of the airport.

Minnie Gant panelists May 2/02Questions were fielded by Mr. Kunze (center), as well as Principal Deputy City Attorney Mike Mais (left), joined by Councilman Webb (right) with comments by Councilman Carroll. The meeting ran non-stop from 6:30-8:30 p.m. A similar meeting is scheduled in the 8th Council district next week (details forthcoming). Among those spotted at the Los Altos meeting were 4th district Airport Advisory Commissioner Derek K. Brown and 8th district residents Mike Kowal and Rae Gabelich...

During the meeting, Mr. Mais indicated the city is "interviewing law firms in the southern California area that do nothing but specialize in airport work...The City Council almost always gives us the financial tools we need to hire the best people, and that's what we intend to do in this case..."

(May 10, 2002) -- We post verbatim below an emailed statement by American Airlines Managing Director-Corporate Media Relations Al Becker in response to media inquiries following JetBlue's announcement it expects to be flying all 27 of its LB Airport flight slots by the end of October, 2002.

American Airlines (and separately, Alaska Airlines) have both requested permanent ("final") flight slots above LB's 41 (flying or reserved) maximum noise budgeted daily flight slots for large aircraft. American and Alaska have separately availed themselves of a city administrative appeal procedure that could bring the issue to the City Council and (if either airline doesn't like the outcome) potentially to court..

Mr. Becker's emailed statement follows. [begin text]

"The City of Long Beach has an obligation under federal law to make the airport open to all carriers on a fair and non-discriminatory basis. The City also must find a way to accommodate American's modest request for four additional permanent slots. We have no desire to litigate the issue. We much prefer to reach an agreement with the City on this issue, and in the paper we submitted to the City two weeks, we identified several possible solutions for reaching this objective. We continue to hope that this matter can be resolved without the need to litigate."

On April 29, American Airlines issued, and posted verbatim on May 1, a detailed background paper on LB matters...

(May 15, 2002) -- Alaska Airlines has announced that starting May 16, it will begin selling tickets on its web site for three flights between LB and Seattle [three from Seattle to LB and three from LB to Seattle].

Alaska Airlines' web site indicates the flights are scheduled to begin on September 9.

Meanwhile, the carrier is pursuing its request for three "final" (permanent) flight slots via a City Hall administrative appeal.

LB Airport has told the carrier that no permanent flight slots are available, noting that all 41 slots allocated in LB's airport ordinance for aircraft over 75,000 pounds are filled (flying or reserved) by others. Alaska is appealing the Airport's decision administratively, which could ultimately bring its request for additional flight slots to the City Council and, if the carrier is not satisfied with the outcome, potentially to court.

(August 28, 2002) -- In a major Airport development announced at the August 27 City Council meeting preceding city staff's presentation of a controversial proposed Airport passenger facility expansion, City Attorney Robert Shannon announced that the city has reached a "settlement in principle" that will avoid airport litigation.

Mr. Shannon indicated that although he was "not in a position to say exactly what all the of the points of that settlement will include," he could say "definitely that the settlement will avoid litigation and avoid the risks that are attendant to litigation -- the main risk being that we would lose the protection of our noise ordinance."

Mr. Shannon called the result "excellent." He added that the airlines (including JetBlue, American, Alaska) have already agreed in principle and the deal is pending FAA approval.

We post Mr. Shannon's statement verbatim below.

[begin text]

I am very pleased to announce that after several mediation sessions attended by the FAA, and the airlines, including JetBlue, American Airlines and Alaska, I believe we have reached a settlement in principle.

I'm not in a position to say exactly what all the of the points of that settlement will include, but I can say definitely that the settlement will avoid litigation and avoid the risks that are attendant to litigation -- the main risk being that we would lose the protection of our noise ordinance.

And more importantly that this settlement will preserve our noise ordinance as it presently exists, including the noise limits which are among the most restrictive, if not the most restrictive, of any airport in the country.

As I say, I'm limited as to exactly what the full range of the settlement will include, but we are going to preserve that ordinance. We do have a settlement in principle. We are now going to be talking to the FAA to get them, as I believe we will be able to, to agree to the terms of the settlement. The airlines have already agreed in principle.

I think we have what I believe is an excellent result here.


In the 2004 election cycles, the public voted out two Mayor-endorsed incumbents in Council districts 4 and 8 and elected LBHUSH2 leader Rae Gabelich and supportive Los Altos resident Patrick O'Donnell. Along with grassroots efforts by LBHUSH2 (whose leaders included Joe Sopo and Mike Kowal), they supported and succeeded in preserving LB's right-sized Airport (a feature travelers like) against efforts by others to "supersize" the Airport with a barnlike monstrosity 30% larger than LB has now.

On February 17, 2015 Ms. Gabelich (who exited in mid-July 2012 under term limits) is expected to speak during the Airport ordinance study session. The Austin-Uranga-O'Donnell motion calling for the study session specified that community stakeholder input should be "accommodated" although it's currently unclear if Ms. Gabelich and LBHUSH2 will be allowed to make a presentation at relatively equal length to city management or whether they will be relegated to 180 seconds per speaker at the public speakers' podium (a decision the Council can make.) will provide LIVE video of the study session on our front page ( starting at 4 p.m. Feb. 17.

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