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Overflow Los Altos Crowd Gathers To Hear City Officials On LB Airport Developments

(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. (We have separately posted this letter at May 1 letter from LB Public Works Dir. to AA)

The event was noteworthy for city staff's presentation of detailed and sometimes complex subject matter to the public in a manner akin to a professional briefing for business leaders. Packets of detailed briefing papers and documentary materials were made available to the public on arrival. A number of people began reading the materials immediately on taking their seats.

Minnie Gant Airport meeting, May 2/02The crowd nearly filled the auditorium, with late arrivals against the back wall and out the back doors. Attendees sat transfixed during a detailed presentation of the Airport's historical, legal and factual intricacies by Airport Manager Chris Kunze.

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.

There was no acrimony, although several residents lamented that the city seemed to be "walking on egg shells" in dealing with the federal government. Others expressed frustration on hearing Mr. Kunze explain that current federal law does not recognize issues such as pollution and safety as grounds for limiting flights, just noise. [He didn't say the issues were irrelevant on the merits or useless for local purposes.]

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.

The meetings take place as Alaska Airlines (in a development first reported days ago by joined American Airlines in seeking 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 potentially to court.

As first reported by, American Airlines' Managing Director of Corporate Affairs Dan Hagan arrived in LB on May 2. Councilmembers Carroll and Webb both indicated they had spoken with Hagan, apparently by telephone.

Carroll revealed that he'd invited Hagan to appear at the meeting, but Hagan had responded with a letter (dated April 29) declining on scheduling grounds. Hagan's letter (released at the meeting) reasserted AA's position that its "sole objective is to get four flights" and the "cap [41 flights] is only an issue because of the agreement with JetBlue that gives them a two-year option on the only available permanent slots. As long as the flights are administered such that American has an opportunity to compete at your airport, American has no problem with the current flight cap. We believe the City can find a way to accommodate the state plans of all carriers without increasing the flight cap."

City Hall also made available the full text of AA's more detailed April 29 position paper (previously posted by

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..."

Some residents left the meeting overwhelmed by the fight ahead. As one elderly couple left, the wife muttered to her husband, "Our goose is cooked."

But many others said they found the city's detailed briefing welcome. And along with frustration at what the city couldn't do at its own airport, there was considerable support for City Hall using all its resources to wage and win a coming fight. "We can't cave in, we have to win," one homeowner told after the meeting.

Transcript excerpts follow:

Councilman Dennis Carroll

...It is my view that everything we can do to accommodate the reasonable interests of the airline community that do not reach the 41 flight cap is in our interest to explore. We can always wind up in court. Court, from my perspective...probably nothing good will happen other than the fact we would win but we do not want to go through that agony again...

...Mayor O'Neill has skills that are incredible when it comes to making people see things in a way where we all benefit. I share that with you because those skills, from my perspective, we need them now...

Mayor O'Neill

...I am committed to the 41 flight cap...After September 11, people are finding smaller airports...are more convenient, more accessible, and there isn't that much of a hassle. So all of a sudden, we're being discovered. Now being discovered when we felt that we were a small [inaudible] is very nice, but also it doesn't fit in with what our concept of what we want to have in our city, because we have known about what this does to residents. And so we are standing with our original concept, which was the judge's judgment in 1995 [minimum 41 noise budgeted flights]. I will not change from that....we're going to make every effort to ensure that we have the best counsel, the best lawyers, to maintain what we have..."

Councilman Frank Colonna

...I want to address the key issues that I think we all care about, and it all falls under the broad category of quality of life. Fuel particulate fallout, overall decline in the air quality of the city. And of course noise. So noise isn't just the only issue...I think that there are other issues...that are significantly important to all of us in terms of why we're all here and what we want to do with our airport.

It really is the time now to draw the line in the sand, and say that we were willing to accept the 41 flight limit, accept that but no more, and hopefully less...It's important that we be heard [in Washington, D.C.]. The issue of our neighborhoods, and the strength of our neighborhoods, is at stake here...I will do everything I can along with the balance of our Council to make sure that the integrity of our neighborhoods are not assaulted.

Councilman Rob Webb

...Dennis Carroll and I are here to tell you that we've locked arms and we've asked our City Council to support us in maintaining that flight limit and we are not going to sit back and be reactive. We're going to be proactive in protecting that flight limit.

After hearing how difficult it was to control negative impacts from flights at the Airport, several residents wondered aloud why City Hall was taking actions that encouraged Airlines to come to LB Airport:

Q & A

...Q: [John Donaldson]: ...We are driven a management staff in this city that is trying to expand the airport. And they say that they're carrying out the directives of the City Council and the "Strategic Plan" which said market the airport.,,What about you [Councilman Webb] making an effort to change our "Strategic Plan" and say stop marketing it as a commercial airport and go back to marketing it as a general aviation airport [applause].

A: [Councilman Webb]...I did work with my colleagues to try to see that we came up with the quietest 41 for me to come forward and say we as a city are not going to, I've got to follow a middle of the line...sometimes I can't be as extreme as my residents want me to be on the airport, and there's a lot of times that there are those in the business community that get very upset with me 'cause I can't be as extreme as they want me to be marketing things, but your point is taken.

Q: [Councilman Carroll, changing the subject] Let me ask Mike a question if I may. If it were the will of the citizens of Long Beach to simply close the Long Beach airport. Do we or do we not have the authority to do that?

We don't have the authority to do that [because the City of LB has taken federal grant money, going back probably before the 1960's]

...Q: [John Donaldson, returning to his question]...I said stop marketing [not stop flying]...

Q: [second audience member]: To follow up on his question about stop marketing, it seems to me the trend with airline activities is based on economic viability. Who controls the fees charged to airlines for landing at LB?...Who decides how much it costs for each flight to land on that runway?

A: [Dep. City Attorney Mike Mais]:...They're called passenger facility fees...right now, the City of LB doesn't charge a passenger facility fee and the reason for that is that the city for many years when we had no flights was trying to market the airport, and that was seen as a tool to allow the airport to be marketed. It's possible that we could charge passenger facility fees...

Q: Councilman Carroll: Would [imposing such a fee] work to diminish the interest [in LB Airport]?

A: [Mr. Mais]: ...In my view, the fees are relatively minimal, we're talking $3 to $4 per person [several audience interjections]

Q [comment]: But to follow on his comment, to change the angle of the plan o marketing for this airport, if we had a sea change,.where every member on the City Council says "we don't want it," then we could start charging fees and make it less advantageous to fly here and they can go to Palmdale, they can go to Ontario..."

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