Councilmembers Carroll, Reyes-Uranga and Webb Seek Public Update on Negotiations With Air Carriers, FAA and LB
(September 15, 2002) -- At the Sept. 17 Council meeting, Councilmembers Dennis Carroll, Tonia Reyes-Uranga and Robb Webb have agendized the following item:
"Please provide the City Council with an update regarding the status of the
negotiations among the air carriers, the FAA and the City of Long Beach."
The item follows an announcement by City Attorney Robert Shannon during the August 27 City Council meeting that the city had reached a settlement in principle with air carriers that would avoid airport litigation.
This major positive development was eclipsed by events...occurring just moments before the Council took up city staff's request to expand Airport passenger facilities to handle over three million passengers a year, a level never before seen in the history of LB Airport.
LBHUSH2, a reorganized grassroots homeowner group, had drawn a capacity crowd to the Council chamber, fuming over the proposed Airport facilities expansion and the fateful May, 2001 Council vote that produced it.
In May, 2001, the Council voted (8-1, Carroll dissenting after seeking a two week delay (with Webb & Grabinski) failed 3-6) to make it easier for carriers to reserve and hold LB Airport's flight slots. This was a policy decision not required by any federal court or federal agency.
Within days, JetBlue Airways took all 27 then vacant large aircraft slots, making 41 daily flights by aircraft over 75,000 (arrivals and departures) inevitable. As flights increased, so did the ranks of LBHUSH2, increasingly dissatisfied with the Council's airport actions.
City Attorney Shannon also had to deal with the consequences of the May, 2001 Council vote. Filling the 41 large commercial flight slots effectively hastened the day when some carrier would demand flight slot 42 (not currently allowed) and beyond. American Airlines and Alaska Air did this in early 2002, charting a collision course with City Hall that could have landed in court or a request for FAA administrative action, or both.
Potentially at stake was LB's Airport Noise Compatibility Ordinance (details below), enacted by the Council in early 1995 to settle previous air carrier litigation. The ordinance protects LB neighborhoods from locally uncontrolled flights suffered by other communities. It is regarded as among the country's most progressive, using a noise budget (or "bucket of noise") that invites the use of quieter aircraft and has been previously approved by a reviewing federal district court.
As previously reported by LBReport.com, closed door meetings have taken place at the FAA's southbay HQ which may or may not have been a prerequisite to an attempt to some party to trigger FAA administrative action against LB. Such an action was never confirmed to us by the FAA or any of the parties.
Although LB City Hall is believed to have a strong legal position on the merits, litigating the issue would inevitably be a costly, high stakes proposition.
At the August 27 Council meeting, City Attorney 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." He called the result "excellent" and 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 August 27 statement verbatim below.
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.
LB's Airport Noise Compatibility Ordinance provides that if an empirical noise study, based on actual LB Airport operations, shows noise for a class of aircraft (like the daily 41 over 75,000 pounds now allowed) is demonstrably lower (due to improved technology for example) than when the ordinance was enacted in 1995, City Hall could increase flights administratively (without Council action) above 41 if the data show a larger number of quieter flights can fit within the current noise budget.
In other words, flight increases can occur under LB's current ordinance if that's what noise data show; it's part of LB's current law and has been frequently stressed by city staff and city attorney representatives in public meetings.
Although others have sometimes used the term "41" flights as shorthand for LB's current daily limit on large aircraft, we think it's more accurate to say -- as City Hall has done and we try to do -- that LB's ordinance actually allows 41 noise budgeted flights over 75,000 pounds...and the 41 flights could increase if an empirical noise study shows more flights can be fit within the current noise budget.
The 41 large aircraft flights expected to begin in October, 2002 will mark the first time since the ordinance was adopted that such an empirical noise study on 41 flights can be conducted. We have posted the text of LB's Airport Noise Compatibility Ordinance on our affiliated web page for LB Airport information, LBAirportWatch.org. It can be accessed directly by clicking LB Airport Noise Compatibility Ordinance.
While details await the Sept. 17 public report, if the City Attorney and outside aviation counsel successfully preserved LB's Airport Noise Compatibility Ordinance and bolstered the city's position against future challenge, this would be a very positive outcome by any lawyer's standards.
However, it is also true that the consequences of the Council's May, 2001 vote (8-1, Carroll dissenting) will remain regardless of what the City Attorney has accomplished.
Because of what the Council did in May, 2001, some LB neighborhoods will likely never return to what they once had and LB will have permanent airport impacts it did not legally have to invite.
Starting in October, 2002 LB will have 44 commercial flights per day (41 large commercial flights plus 3 regional flights)...with (we assume) more large aircraft flights in a year if the noise budget empirically allows...plus potentially 22 more regional flights under the current noise ordinance, which may arguably be attracted by enlarged airport facilities.
Past City Councils regarded 41 flights as a worst case to be avoided, not a goal to be pursued. Three million plus annual passengers is unprecedented in the history of LB airport, far more than LB had when it previously reached 41 flights (with smaller aircraft and smaller load factors/percentage of seats filled.)
The increased flights will also inevitably fuel future Airport development because under federal law, landing fees and other directly generated Airport revenue can't be used to provide general fund taxpayer items (like citywide police, fire, libraries or parks). The money can only be spent on Airport items...a machine that effectively feeds future Airport development.
At its August 27, 2002 meeting, the Council voted unanimously to delay approval of a permanent facility pending environmental review within 120 days...but refused to delay its so-called "temporary" facilities (that some city staff have indicated could function for up to ten years). City staff urged the Council to proceed on grounds of customer convenience and safety while admitting the specific expanded facilities were not required by any federal mandate. The Council voted to move forward with the "temporary" facilities 5-3. (Yes: Lowenthal, Colonna, Kell, Richardson-Batts, Lerch; No: Baker, Carroll, Webb).
Roughly a dozen LBHUSH2 members (who remained for the late night vote) exited the Council chamber chanting, "Recall! Recall!" No such action has been taken as of this posting.
We think taxpayers should thank City Attorney Shannon and those on his legal team who (from what we can tell thus far) appear to have delivered an excellent legal outcome. We think it's important to acknowledge a job well done; LB should not be a city where no good deed goes unpunished.
At the same time, LB voters have the legal right to decide what to do with Councilmembers whose actions helped bring airport impacts that will continue for years to come.
They are big impacts. We think they make big changes inevitable...and if properly pursued, probably unstoppable.