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  • Closed Session Cancelled on Possible Airport Litigation Due to Absence of Mayor, Councilman Webb...But Agenda Item To OK Agreement With Outside Aviation Law Firm Still On

  • LBReport.com Learns Law Firm Provides Legal Services to Orange County's John Wayne Airport And Has For Roughly 20 Yrs.

    (May 21, 2002, web posted at 12:00 noon) -- City Attorney Bob Shannon has advised LBReport.com that a closed session of the City Council, previously scheduled for this afternoon to discuss possible airport related litigation (indicated by Mr. Shannon during last week's public Council meeting and reported by LBReport.com) has been cancelled due to a mundane absence by Mayor Beverly O'Neill and 8th district Councilman Rob Webb expected at today's meeting.

    However, tonight's public Council agenda item (previously reported by LBReport.com) in which the City Attorney will seek Council authority for an agreement of up to $500,000 with an outside law firm assist legal efforts to maintain and preserve LB's Airport Noise Compatibility Ordinance is still on.

    LBReport.com has separately learned that the law firm -- Gatzke, Dillon & Ballance, LLP -- currently provides legal services to Orange County's John Wayne Airport (JWA) and has done so for roughly 20 years.

    "The law firm of Gatzke, Dillon and Ballance currently provides legal advisory services to John Wayne Airport and has done so for decades," JWA spokesman Justin McCusker told LBReport.com.

    In March, 2002, Orange County voted (58%-42%) against proceeding with an El Toro airport. [The Gatzke firm was on the side of OC efforts to proceed with the El Toro airport plan.] In the same election, voters ousted incumbent Supervisor Cynthia Coad, who was the swing Board vote supporting the El Toro Airport plan; she will be replaced by grassroots activist (Chris Norby) who opposed an El Toro Airport; Norby's term begins in January. 2003.

    One of the arguments used to support an El Toro Airport was that it would reduce pressure to expand John Wayne Airport. Although El Toro airport is now apparently off the table, many residents in John Wayne Airport impacted areas (such as Newport Beach) remain bitterly opposed to John Wayne Airport expansion.

    Doesn't that put OC and LB on a potential, arguably inevitable, collision course?

    "The issue of a potential conflict has been discussed and we believe there is no conflict at the present time," Mr. Shannon told LBReport.com in response to our query. He added, "If a potential conflict arose, this would of course be fully and properly disclosed and dealt with at that time."

    Attorney Michael Gatzke told LBReport.com he has represented OC in airport related matters since 1978 and represented airports across the country. Mr. Gatzke said he believes "Orange County and Long Beach are actually pretty much in the same place" in seeking to retain their flight limits. He noted OC and LB both involve "two airport proprietors which have a long history of controlling flights and both remain committed to continuing those regulations and doing so under federal law."

    Mr. Gatzke noted that an extension of the current John Wayne airport litigation settlement agreement [between City of Newport Beach and two citizen groups, which JWA has operated under since 1985] is about to be finalized and the extension contemplates an increase in John Wayne airport flights. The current settlement expires in 2005.

    But hasn't an aviation industry trade group contended in correspondence it believes John Wayne's ability to control flights as it does now expires when the settlement does in 2005? "We do not share that view," Mr. Gatzke told LBReport.com.

    Some LB officials have previously indicated to LBReport.com that they believe LB has distinguishable and stronger legal, factual and equitable positions than OC.

    Mr. Gatzke told LBReport.com that there does not appear to be a conflict at the present time but if "the situation evolved in another way we'd have to address it at that time."

    Mr. Shannon noted that the Gatzke firm has clear expertise in aviation law, a narrow field of legal experts. LBReport.com has separately noticed that California Dept. of Transportation (CalTrans) Division of Aeronautics treatise style "California Airport Land Use Planning Handbook" indicates it was prepared in part in association with Gatzke, Dillon & Ballance.

    The item on tonight's City Council agenda (consent calendar item 10) seeks Council authorization for a contract with the law firm of up to $500,000 "to assist the City Attorney in connection with legal issues and, if necessary, litigation involving the operation of the Long Beach Airport. In this regard, the primary focus of the City's legal efforts will be to maintain and preserve the current Long Beach Airport Noise Compatibility Ordinance."

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