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First Significant Council & Staff Discussion of LB Airport Since 1995; We Provide Extended Transcript Excerpts

  • Council Amends Flight Slot Rules, Hoping to Fill All 41 Comm'l Slots By Letting Airlines Reserve and Hold Slots Longer

  • Several Councilmembers Say They Support Keeping 41 Comm'l Flight Limit (transcripts included)

  • City Attorney's Office Warns Against Trying To Reduce Maximum Allowed Flights

    (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. provides extended transcript excerpts below.

    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).

    The resolution does not raise LB's current limit of 41 commercial flight slots, but City Hall hopes the new procedure will help fill the existing 41 slots (roughly 15 of which are filled now). That means as a practical matter, if the Council approved plan succeeds, there could be roughly 25 more flights each day than residents experience now.

    The 41 commercial flight figure was originally imposed over LB's objection by a federal judge as the daily maximum LB had to accept. In 1995, the Council agreed to accept 41 daily commercial flights to settle litigation against the city by several airlines and aviation interests.

    Since then, City Hall has treated the 41 flight level, which it previously resisted, as a level it now seeks to attain. The federal court order and the litigation settlement (which expired on Jan. 1, 2001) did not require City Hall to fill all 41 flight slots, only to have them available.

    Councilwoman Kell made the motion to amend the flight slot procedures, acknowledging this could promote filling many of the now-unused 41 flight slots but arguing that letting airlines phase in operations over 24 months would give neighborhoods time to adjust and could attract airlines using newer, quieter aircraft. Her statement (verbatim, below) also stressed the need to adhere to the 41 flight limit.

    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).

    The Council's discussion of LB Airport issues follows months of silence on issues relating to the airport's asserted passenger capacity. As previously reported by, LB's Airport Manager has elsewhere contended (without public Council objection) that LB Airport could handle roughly 3 million air passengers per year (nearly five times the level handled in 2000) under LB's current flight limits (41 commercial plus 25 commuter flights per day).

    As also reported by, in April the Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG) adopted a regional transportation plan including an airport component that assumes LB Airport could handle 3 million passengers per year by 2025. LB's two representatives to SCAG, Councilmembers Grabinski and Webb, failed to attend the SCAG meeting where the final plan was adopted. A month earlier, Mr. Grabinski voted as a member of a SCAG committee to advance the airport component for final SCAG approval. provides below extended transcript excerpts from the Council's May 15, 2001 discussion of the LB Airport item. As with all excerpts, not all speakers are indicated and some speakers and/or statements are edited, with deletions indicated by elipses. For the record, Councilmembers Lowenthal, Baker, Colonna, Richardson-Batts did not speak.

    Airport Manager Chris Kunze (city staff)

    ...Our rationale for the amendment is as follows. Our experience with the six month implementation time frame is that it can result in a less than methodical aircraft acquisition and scheduling process which could, and has, resulted in trying maintain a schedule with too few aircraft with resultant flight cancellations, delays and curfew violations.

    Number two, the airline growth nationally has been vibrant and new aircraft, which tend to be much quieter than used recycled aircraft, deliveries often stretch out for years. Our recent experience in implementing our 2001 airline service acquisition plan is that airlines we have talked to tend to grow into additional service by using the new aircraft lift provided by new aircraft, rather than reallocating existing resources.

    Being able to phase in service increments would make us more attratcive ot an airline receiving new aircraft deliveries to fuel its growth and could tend to provide Long Beach with the availability of newer, quieter fleet.

    And thirdly, phasing in over a longer period may provide a greater level of acceptability to our close-in neighbors and would also synchronize well with our terminal area enhancements as they come on line...

    ...Implementation at this time would be helpful to us to address the business opportunities in the industry in fulfillment of the airport business plan and the city's 2010 Strategic Plan.

    Councilwoman Jackie Kell

    This amendment to the current resolution will permit any airline that wants to start operations at our airport to begin those operations slowly and with care. Currently our resolution calls for airlines to be flying all slows that they would like in up to 9 months. This new resolution will allow airlines to gradually increse the number of their flights up to 24 months, which will give the city, neighborhoods and community more time to adjust to the frequency of additional flight operations.

    Additionally, our current resolution has caused us to attract under capitalized start up airlines with older, noisier aircraft in their fleet. Because of their lack of capital, they continue to supplement their fleet with cheaper, noisier aircraft just so they can operate in the limited time frame currently in place that we have in the city.

    With this change, we'll be working to encourage airlines to slowly build a modern fleet of the quiestest, state of the art aircraft available. These newer aircraft have better climb rates to get up and over our neighborhoods quieter and quicker with substantially lower emissions and with the least amount of impact on our surrounding communities.

    This resolution will therefore work hand in hand with our existing Noise and Compatibility ordinance which is currently among the most stringent in the nation.

    With over-capacity problems at LAX and John Wayne Airports, there are politicians and other agencies who would love to take over the control of our airport and shatter our flight limits. A number of recent news articles have clearly indicated that Long Beach is a prime dumping ground for excess capacity due to our unused slots for any type of operations including older, noisier aircraft or even a majority of cargo aircraft.

    As far as I'm concerned, they can take their planes and fly them elsewhere. This City Council must protect the needs of our city and residents. As long as long as this City Council adheres to our current restrictions of 41 commercial flights, we are in control of our airport.

    I have a question for our City Attorney, Mr. Shannon. I know you have answered this question for us before, but would you please explain what we could possibly be exposing ourselves tt if we try and touch, change, or reduce the flight slot limits in our current ordinance.

    Principal Deputy City Attorney Mike Mais

    ...In 1995, the city entered into a final judgment in a 13 year litigation that we were involved in with Alaska Airlines, amongst others. And the result of that judgment was that the city was restricted to allowing 41 flights.

    What happened in 1990 was that the federal government passed a law called the Airport Noise and Compatibility Act of 1990. And what that law does, in essence, is require cities to not restrict via slots in major airports.

    We are grandfathered under that particular act with the 41 slots. However, if we try to further limit slots we would fall within the act. We'd have to perform a specific type of study that's mandated by the FAA and to my knowledge since 1990, no airport in the country has ever been permitted by the FAA to restrict or contract the number of slots that they currently fly.

    And further, if we tried to restrict the number of slots, undoubtedly like what happened in the early 80s, we would probably be sued by one or more of the major airlines, because as Councilperson Kell indicated, there's a capacity problem particularly in the southern California area and there's pressure from all of the surounding airports to put more flights into the Long Beach area.

    Councilwoman Kell (2d time)

    ...I just want everyone to know that I believe that this City Council should never open itself up to such risk by tinkering with our current court-approved ordinance and I would certainly never endorse any move that would see our city lose control of our airport and not being able to protect our neighborhoods.

    By passing this resolution, the City Council is reaffirming its previous votes supporting the 2010 Strategic Plan which calls for utilization of the airport but possibly more importantly, we are also telling our neighborhoods that we are looking at every avenue available to ensure that any new airline that may have an interest in our city had better be prepared to be responsible, quiet and good neighbors for all of us....[later makes the motion to adopt the resolution]

    Councilman Jerry Shultz

    Well I too am very supportive of the 41 flight limitation into our city. I think it's fair and reasonable and should not be tinkered with in any way...

    Councilman Dennis Carroll

    ...I appreciate the sensitivity with which Councilmember Kell is handling this issue. I am particularly heartened to see not only her but the city's position that they are reaffirming the 41 flight mandate.

    It is also the case from my point of view that 41 flights is not necessarily the amount that the city would have selected given the impact of airports on our community if left to its own devices. That number, I think we should remember, was the result of litigation and was determined by a federal judge. That determination has now been brought to a close, but sort of like when the lease expires, the month to month tenancy of 41 is the number that we are now dealing with.

    I don't know that 41 flights is a magic number or that 41 flights doesn't have severe consequences, I know it does in my neighborhoods. We do know that in 1991 when the 41 flights were actually being used, Long Beach was bringing approximately one and half million airport customers to and from our airports.

    We lived with it. It was possible to live with it but not without consequences for the neighbors, and some people left Los Altos area and moved out of town. They didn't want to deal with that number of flights. That still goes on on a periodic basis. I am mindful that persons who move into the area now do so with an appreciation that there is an airport there and the airport has flights.

    But currently there are 16 flights there and this proposal would open the prospect, perhaps sooner rather than later, of those additional slots being filled. I am mindful that there is some merit to the notion that they would be filled on a more regular, that is staggered, basis rather than waking up and suddenly there are 27 additional flights a week from today rather than pacing those out over 24 months as being proposed by this resolution...

    It does raise the issue in my mind though of the persons who are suffering the burden of this being consulted before the City Council takes action. It seems to me that we should give an opportunity to those persons in the 4th district who would like to be heard, who would like to explore the potential consequences of this, to have an opportunity to do so. Not only for us to listen to them but for them to listen to the justification which they are hearing all of a sudden this evening.

    So it seems to me that while the argument is being made that the airport is a vital hub of economic commerce from this city, I think we have seen that proposition actually being questioned. From 1991 to the present, flights have decreased; passenger loads have gone down to 500,000 from a million and half and yet the city has moved forward in the last ten years to become a more vibrant, economic entity.

    So I think the argument that the city turns on the future of the airport can no longer be substantiated. I think that again argues for our principal concern needs to be the persons who live and are impacted by the airport.

    Secondly, I think it's important to note that our Strategic Plan in two specifics encourages our focus to be on the neighborhoods and the quality of life in the neighborhoods. Secondarily and importantly, the economic impact of engines such as the airport, but I think the primary focus does have to be on the neighborhoods.

    So for those reasons, Madam Mayor, I am going to propose a substitute motion which would be that this matter be continued for two weeks to allow the neighborhood to be heard, particularly the neighborhoods in the Los Altos area, to explore what the consequences of this resolution might be for them and to give us a chance to hear from and listen to our community before we adopt a resolution which does have some merits as I said before, but I think unless there is some demonstrable need to pass this this evening, it would be appropriate and courteous to those in the 4th district to permit a short continuance.

    Councilman Rob Webb

    Madam Mayor, in order to facilitate the discussion, I will second Councilman Carroll's motion.

    [Carroll's substitute motion fails 6-3. Yes: Carroll, Webb, Grabinski; No: Lowenthal, Baker, Colonna, Kell, Richardson-Batts. Shultz]

    ...Moving right along. I appreciate where Councilman Carroll is coming from on this. I have been involved in this issue for many, many years as a resident of the 8th district...

    I...sat in the audience years ago when the [airport litigation] settlement came forward and which the Councilman who proceeded me, Concilman Jeff Kellogg, made a motion for an EIR, and he was brutally beaten 8-1...

    ...The settlement of 41 flights...was the maximum number of flights that this airport has ever had in the city of Long Beach. And so I think it was unfair to the residents of both the 4th district and the 8th district that the settlement ended up with the maximum number of flights we've ever had...

    It was my intent to take this to the community because I've been requested for the community to bring this item up for discussion. I do not have that opportunity. I'm willing to take a leap of faith this evening that we are indeed going to ensure and move forward with an effort to recruit airlines that are indeed the most community friendly and I will be supportive of the main motion this evening.

    Councilman Ray Grabinski

    ...If the 41 flights aren't there in terms of the market, then we won't get back up to 41 flights, and that's really been the case for a good long time. But I don't want anybody to forget that we helped change the noise problems in communities all over the country by going through that [airport] battle...But what Dennis [Carroll] is saying is absolutely correct.

    I don't have them taking off in my district, and I don't have them landing in my district, but my district gets the planes after they're up, going over them down the river on both sides and we get the small aircraft and the helicopters, and most of the people have learned to live with the airport and I think that's what this will probably lead to is some sort of compromise...

    Councilman Shultz (2d time)

    Just as a follow up, I do think that the Long Beach airport is in fact an important part of our economic plan in the city. In fact, I remind my colleagues that just probably within the next year, we will have about 500,000 people coming through our city to use our new Carnival [cruise ship] lines that are coming to our side of the bay.

    And I think it makes perfect marketing sense to market the Long Beach airport for those travelers. Half a million people coming through our airport, using our transportation, staying at our hotels and eating at our restaurants on our side of the bay and I think it's important that the Long Beach airport plays a major part of that instead of LAX to the north of us.

    So this is an important issue and whatever we can do to bring it up to those 41 limited flights, with aircraft that are the type of aircraft we want to see in our city, I have no problem with and nor should any of us.

    Councilmember Webb (3d time)

    ...I'd like to address a couple of things...I agree with the economic benefits of the airport and we also have neighborhood quality issues that we represent and we're going to represent vehemently and there's going to be a balance that we're going to strike in the middle.

    ...This is a campaign issue, it's something I spoke to regularly duing my campaign when I ran for office in the year 2000, because January 2001, the settlement so to speak, all bets were off when it came to what the judge ordered and what this city accepted for the number of flights, and there are many in this city that would like to see us reduce the number of flights, and I'm sure there are some in this city that would like to see us increase the number of flights...

    ...I believe firmly...if we alter the number of flights from that judgment, up or down, we will invite lawsuit. If we lower the number of flights, Mr. Mais has already indicated, that even airlines that are not users of the airport would enter into a lawsuit to protect rights that they don't even currently enjoy. I guarantee that if we raise the number of flights above 41 that the residents will have us back into a lawsuit.

    The downside of that is that right now, the Long Beach airport is one of the few airports in this nation that has some local control. And that's why I have spoke to our constituents, and the majority of our constituents agree we do not want to mess with the number of flights after that settlement is over in January 2001 in either direction...

    Mayor O'Neill

    Actually this has been a good conversation. I think that everytime I hear the discussion on airports of the area and they bring in Long Beach I just shudder, because we have control over our airport. People don't seem to understand that.

    Tonight we're not talking about anything to do with the regulations that are in place on noise, on flights or on the curfew, it's just talking about allocation of slots...

    The vote

    The motion to amend the flight slot allocation procedures passed 8-1. [Yes: Lowenthal, Baker, Colonna, Kell, Richardson-Batts, Grabinski, Webb, Shultz. No: Carroll]

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