AVIATION NOISE LAW
City of Burbank v. Burbank-Glendale-Pasadena Airport Authority Cite as: 113 Cal.App.4th 465, 6 Cal.Rptr.3d 367
CALIFORNIA COURT OF APPEAL, SECOND DISTRICT, DIV. 7
CITY OF BURBANK, Plaintiff and Respondent,
BURBANK-GLENDALE-PASADENA AIRPORT AUTHORITY, Defendant;
Intervener and Appellant
Filed November 19, 2003
(Appeal from Superior Court of Los Angeles County, No. BC259852, Richard Montes, Judge.)
Certified for Publication
Moskowitz, Brestoff, Winston & Blinderman, Dennis A. Winston and Barbara S.
Blinderman for Intervener and Appellant.
Dennis A. Barlow, Burbank City Attorney; Kaplan Kirsch & Rockwell and Peter
J. Kirsch for Plaintiff and Respondent.
In 2001, the voters of the City of Burbank passed an initiative measure which
placed numerous restrictions and conditions on the Burbank-Glendale-Pasadena Airport.
This initiative provided specific and detailed directions regarding how, when and under
what circumstances the City of Burbank could consent to acquisition, financing, zoning,
construction or modification of any land or facility at or around the Burbank-Glendale-Pasadena
Airport. Within a week of the election the City of Burbank filed this action for
declaratory relief to seek a ruling on the validity of the initiative measure. The trial court
declared the measure invalid. The court found the measure an inappropriate subject for
an initiative, and further found its provisions violative of state statutory law and state
constitutional law. Accordingly, the trial court entered judgment in favor of the City of
Burbank. Characterizing the measure as a mere zoning regulation, a major proponent of
the initiative contends the measure is legal, constitutional and the City of Burbank is
bound to enforce this city law duly adopted by initiative. We conclude the initiative
conflicts with the powers delegated exclusively to the city council in Public Utilities
Code section 21661.6. Because this statute addresses a matter of statewide concern, we
find the statute prevails making legislation by initiative invalid. Accordingly, we affirm.
FACTS AND PROCEEDINGS BELOW
In 1977, the cities of Burbank, Glendale and Pasadena entered into a joint powers
agreement [FN 1] to acquire and operate an existing airport then privately owned by the
Lockheed Corporation. The joint powers agreement created the Burbank-Glendale-Pasadena
Airport Authority (Airport Authority). This joint powers agreement, in turn,
empowered the Airport Authority to acquire, operate, repair, maintain, improve and
administer the airport. [FN 2]
[FN 1] See Government Code section 6500 et seq. authorizing joint powers agreements
between and among public agencies.
[FN 2] See City of Burbank v. Burbank-Glendale-Pasadena Airport Authority (1999) 72
Cal.App.4th 366, 370.
The airport is physically situated within the cities of both Burbank and Los
Angeles. However, the terminal, parking areas, majority of the runways and the support
areas are located within the boundaries of Burbank. Burbank thus reviews airport related
projects to ensure consistency with its zoning codes and general plan and issues building
and other permits for activities at the airport.
The Airport Authority’s attempted exercise of its statutory powers to expand or
relocate the airport has generated considerable litigation over the years. [FN 3]
The desire to control airport expansion or relocation has also inspired ballot initiatives.
[FN 3] See, e.g., City of Burbank v. Lockheed Air Terminal, Inc. (1973) 411 U.S. 642;
Baker v. Burbank-Glendale-Pasadena Airport Authority (1985) 39 Cal.3d 862; Burbank-Glendale-
Pasadena Airport Authority v. Hensler (1991) 233 Cal.App.3d 577; Burbank-Glendale-
Pasadena Airport Authority v. City of Burbank (9th Cir. 1998) 136 F.3d 1360;
City of Burbank v. Burbank-Glendale-Pasadena Airport Authority, supra, 72 Cal.App.4th
Measure A is one such ballot initiative. In a preelection review of the initiative,
the city attorney provided the Burbank City Council with his opinion Measure A was
likely illegal and unconstitutional. The city attorney warned the city council enforcement
of Measure A could expose the city and/or its officials to potential liability. An analysis
by city staff concluded the costs and effects of implementing Measure A would likely be
significant, but could not be accurately assessed because of the vague and ambiguous
wording of the initiative measure. The Burbank City Council nevertheless submitted the
initiative to the voters in a special election.
Burbank voters approved Measure A by 58 percent of the voters submitting
qualified ballots in a special initiative election on October 9, 2001. Measure A became
law the next day on October 10, 2001. [FN 4] On this day, the president of the Airport
Authority wrote a letter to the Mayor of Burbank. Among other things, the Airport
Authority urged Burbank to mount a legal challenge to the validity of Measure A or risk
indefinite policy paralysis. The Airport Authority discussed several perceived legal
defects in Measure A and warned, “The City faces potentially significant liability in
damages and attorneys fees to land owners and businesses whose rights would be
adversely affected if the measure is enforced.”
[FN 4] California Constitution article II, section 10, subdivision (a); Elections Code
Measure A requires Burbank to hold a referendum election with a two-thirds
affirmative vote prior to any city council consent to the “financing and/or construction of
an airport terminal.” Measure A also specifies the Burbank City Council may not
consent to any acquisition of land, or rezoning of any land for airport use, “nor consent to
the financing or construction of any new, rebuilt, relocated or expanded Airport facility,
under any conditions, or due to any circumstances, unless and until the Airport has
complied with . . .” the 12 specified conditions in the initiative. The 12 conditions
imposed against the Airport Authority include (1) mandatory curfews on aircraft
operations; (2) maximum limits on numbers of flights; (3) maximum limits on numbers
of passengers; (4) adopting rules to impose fines and sanctions for curfew and cap
violations; (5) implementing a legally enforceable ban on certain aircraft not meeting
noise criteria; (6) developing a program for sound insulation which provides matching
funds; (7) banning easements used as sound abatement measures; (8) requiring certified
environmental impact reports for all property the Airport Authority “owns, leases or uses
for Airport or Airport related purposes;” (9) developing a master plan for all airport
property approved by the Burbank City Council; (10) banning the lengthening of existing
runways, adding additional runways, or modifying runways to accommodate heavier or
larger aircraft; (11) developing a legally enforceable plan for Burbank to impose and
collect a daily fine of at least $5,000 for each day the Airport Authority violates the terms
of Measure A; and (12) agreeing to reimburse Burbank for lost property tax revenues and
for its share of infrastructure improvements and maintenance.
Measure A also imposes duties on Burbank (1) to establish a city department to
enforce Measure A’s terms and conditions and to investigate alleged violations; (2) to
hire an independent consultant to monitor noise levels; and (3) to amend any and all
existing city laws to conform to Measure A’s requirements. Measure A specifies any
amendment to Measure A’s provisions requires an affirmative vote of two thirds of the
electorate at a regular city election. [FN 5]
[FN 5] See the attached appendix for the full text of Measure A.
After the election, the Burbank City Council processed two applications from the
Airport Authority and approved two airport related projects. A tenant of Airport
Authority property sought a permit to upgrade an electrical panel in conjunction with the
construction of a spray booth. The city council adopted a resolution to approve the work
which had been completed prior to passage of Measure A in any event. The second
resolution concerned grading and building permits for construction of a parking lot. The
Burbank City Council adopted the resolution and issued the permits because all
construction would be entirely outside the boundaries of the Airport Authority, and on
land neither owned nor controlled by the Airport Authority. However, there remained
pending projects on which the Burbank City Council took no action. After an aircraft
overshot the runway and came to a stop on a public highway, the Airport Authority
sought approval from Burbank to relocate the two airport parking lots which had been
most affected by the aircraft’s near miss. Burbank concluded its consent to these
construction projects would require compliance with the 12 conditions imposed in
Measure A as “construction” of a “new, rebuilt, relocated or expanded Airport facility.”
To approve the parking lot projects would require months, if not years, if for no other
reason, to adopt and implement Measure A’s various programs and to identify and amend
all affected city laws. On the other hand, if Burbank denied consent the city then exposed
itself to liability and other litigation costs in the event the Airport Authority chose to
challenge its withholding of consent for these public safety related projects.
The Burbank City Council thereafter adopted a resolution which in essence
imposed a moratorium on approvals for airport, or airport related, projects until the
validity of Measure A could be judicially determined. Mirroring the language of
Measure A, the resolution stated Burbank would impose a freeze on approvals pertaining
to the “financing or construction of any new, rebuilt, relocated or expanded Airport
facility under any conditions or due to any circumstances.” The resolution directed city
staff to accept and process such applications, but to hold them in abeyance pending a
court ruling on the validity of Measure A.
On October 16, 2001, Burbank filed this action against the Airport Authority for
declaratory relief seeking to have Measure A declared unconstitutional or illegal. The
Airport Authority agreed Measure A should be declared illegal. Because its views were
aligned with Burbank, the Airport Authority perceived no actual controversy between the
parties and chose not to be a party to the action. The Airport Authority demurred to
Burbank’s first amended complaint, and then defaulted when the court overruled its
Thereafter Burbank solicited plaintiff in intervention and appellant, Michael
Nolan, an activist who had worked for passage of Measure A, to defend Measure A.
Pursuant to the parties’ stipulation, Nolan filed a complaint and intervened in the action.
He challenged Burbank’s claims of illegality and sought a declaration Measure A was
constitutional, legal and enforceable. Nolan also asserted Burbank lacked standing to
challenge the validity of one of its own laws duly passed by the electorate.
Burbank moved for summary judgment and requested default judgment be entered
against the Airport Authority. Nolan opposed Burbank’s motions, and in addition,
moved for judgment on the pleadings. Ultimately, the trial court ruled in favor of
Burbank on all pending motions and entered judgment in its favor. The court (1) found
the case presented an actual controversy impacting Burbank’s legal rights and duties and
thus Burbank had standing to seek the requested declaratory relief; (2) declared Measure
A impermissibly interfered with powers delegated exclusively to the Burbank City
Council under Public Utilities Code section 21661.6; (3) declared Measure A’s two-thirds
vote requirement on airport related issues violated the California Constitution and state
election law; (4) declared the subject matter of Measure A was beyond the initiative
power; (5) declared Measure A conflicted with the California Environmental Quality Act;
(6) declared Measure A imposed conditions beyond Burbank’s police powers; and (7)
declared no legally enforceable provision of Measure A remained to be enforced.
Nolan appeals to challenge the trial court’s findings and conclusions.
I. STANDARD OF REVIEW.
The parties do not dispute, and we agree, the issues presented in this appeal are
pure questions of law. We thus review both Burbank’s motion for summary judgment
and Nolan’s competing motion for judgment on the pleadings under the de novo standard
of review. [FN 6]
[FN 6] City of Burbank v. Burbank-Glendale-Pasadena Airport Authority, supra, 72
Cal.App.4th 366, 373; Wolf v. Mitchell, Silberberg & Knupp (1999) 76 Cal.App.4th
1030, 1035; Kapsimallis v. Allstate Ins. Co. (2002) 104 Cal.App.4th 667, 672.
II. PUBLIC UTILITIES CODE SECTION 21661.6 ENTRUSTS
DISCRETIONARY POWER OVER THIS MATTER OF STATEWIDE
CONCERN EXCLUSIVELY TO THE BURBANK CITY COUNCIL,
PRECLUDING AN INITIATIVE MEASURE COVERING THE
Division Nine of the Public Utilities Code controls aviation matters within the
state. In enacting the State Aeronautics Act the Legislature declared the purpose of the
Act was “to further and protect the public interest in aeronautics and aeronautical
progress. . . .” [FN 7]
[FN 7] Public Utilities Code section 21002.
The Legislature set forth ten goals to further the purposes of the Act,
including “[g]ranting to a state agency powers, and imposing upon it duties, so that the
state may properly perform its functions relative to aeronautics and effectively exercise
its jurisdiction over persons and property, assist in the development of a statewide system
of airports, encourage the flow of private capital into aviation facilities, and cooperate
with and assist political subdivisions and others engaged in aeronautics in the
development and encouragement of aeronautics.” [FN 8] The Act created a Department of
Transportation and State Aeronautics Board to effect “uniformity of the laws and
regulations relating to aeronautics consistent with federal aeronautics laws and
regulations.” [FN 9]
Article three of the State Aeronautics Act pertains to the regulation of airports,
both public and private. [FN 10] This article generally governs construction of new airports,
[FN 11] expansion or enlargement of existing airports, [FN 12] approval of airport sites,
[FN 13] permits, [FN 14] noise regulation [FN 15] and the like. Section 21661.6 of this article is the provision which specifies procedural criteria for expanding or enlarging an existing public airport. Public Utilities
Code section 21661.6 provides:
“(a) Prior to the acquisition of land . . . by any political subdivision for the purpose
of expanding or enlarging any existing publicly owned airport, the acquiring entity shall
submit a plan of that expansion or enlargement to the board of supervisors of the county,
or the city council of the city, in which the property proposed to be acquired is located.
“(b) The plan shall show in detail the airport-related uses and other uses proposed
for the property to be acquired.
“(c) The board of supervisors or the city council, as the case may be, shall, upon
notice, conduct a public hearing on the plan, and shall thereafter approve or disapprove
“(d) Upon approval of the plan, the proposed acquisition of property may begin.
“(e) The use of property so acquired shall thereafter conform to the approved plan,
and any variance from that plan, or changes proposed therein, shall first be approved by
the appropriate board of supervisors or city council after a public hearing on the subject
of the variance or plan change.
“(f) The requirements of this section are in addition to any other requirements of
law relating to construction or expansion of airports.” [FN 16]
[FN 8] Public Utilities Code section 21002, subdivision (d).
[FN 9] Public Utilities Code section 21002, subdivision (c).
[FN 10] Public Utilities Code section 21661 et seq.
[FN 11] Public Utilities Code section 21661.5.
[FN 12] Public Utilities Code section 21661.6.
[FN 13] Public Utilities Code sections 21662, 21664 and 21664.5.
[FN 14] Public Utilities Code sections 21662, 21664.5, 21666 and 21668.
[FN 15] Public Utilities Code sections 21669, 21669.1, 21669.2, 21669.3 and 21669.4.
[FN 16] Italics added. See footnotes 12, 13, and 14 [examples of other requirements].
Nolan notes the absence of language in Public Utilities Code section 21661.6
stating discretionary power whether to expand or relocate airports resides exclusively in a
board of supervisors or city council. He claims this lack of specific language in the
statute, combined with the presumptive validity of Measure A as an initiative measure,
compel the conclusion initiative measures on the subject matter of airport construction to
enlarge or expand an airport is not preempted. Moreover, Nolan asserts, Measure A does
not violate Public Utilities Code section 21661.6 in any event. Under Measure A, he
notes, the Airport Authority must still submit all project requests to the Burbank City
Council for approval. He points out the city council thus retains the power to determine
whether the Airport Authority has satisfied Measure A’s preconditions for Burbank’s
consent to the project. For these reasons Nolan claims Measure A does not
impermissibly infringe on any rights of Burbank’s City Council at all, and in any event,
initiatives passed by the electorate are presumptively valid.
The California Constitution in article II, section 11, guarantees a local electorate’s
right to initiative and referendum. [FN 17] “‘“[I]t has long been our judicial policy to apply a
liberal construction to this power whenever it is challenged in order that the right be not
improperly annulled. If doubts can reasonably be resolved in favor of the use of this
reserve power, courts will preserve it.”’ (Associated Home Builders etc. Inc. v. City of
Livermore (1976) 18 Cal.3d 582, 591.) Thus, we will presume, absent a clear showing of
the Legislature’s intent to the contrary, that legislative decisions of a city council or board
of supervisors . . . are subject to initiative and referendum.” [FN 18]
[FN 17] California Constitution, article II, section 11, subdivision (a) provides: “Initiative
and referendum powers may be exercised by the electors of each city and county under
procedures that the Legislature shall provide. . . .”
[FN 18] Voters for Responsible Retirement v. Board of Supervisors (1994) 8 Cal.4th 765,
776-777 [legislative intent to bar the referendum power was unmistakable because statute
stated actions taken under it were to go into effect immediately].
“This presumption rests on the fact that the 1911 amendment to the California
Constitution conferring the right of initiative and referendum was ‘[d]rafted in light of the
theory that all power of government ultimately resides in the people’ and that ‘the
amendment speaks of initiative and referendum, not as a right granted the people, but as a
power reserved by them.’” [FN 19]
[FN 19] DeVita v. County of Napa (1995) 9 Cal.4th 763, 775-776, quoting Associated
Home Builders etc. Inc. v. City of Livermore (1976) 18 Cal.3d 582, 591.
The presumption in favor of the right of initiative and referendum can be rebutted
by evidence of a legislative intent to delegate discretionary power to legislate in a
particular area exclusively to a local governing body, precluding legislation through
initiative or referendum. “The presumption in favor of the right of initiative is rebuttable
upon a definite indication that the Legislature, as part of the exercise of its power to
preempt all local legislation in matters of statewide concern, has intended to restrict that
right. [Citations.] Accordingly, [the Supreme Court has] concluded that the initiative
and referendum power could not be used in areas in which the local legislative body’s
discretion was largely preempted by statutory mandate. (See Simpson v. Hite [(1950)] 36
Cal.2d 125, 133-134 [initiative or referendum power cannot be used to interfere with
board of supervisor’s duty to provide suitable accommodations for courts]; Housing
Authority v. Superior Court (1950) 35 Cal.2d 550, 557-558 [local governing body’s
contract with local housing authority is an administrative act under state and federal
public housing law and therefore not subject to referendum].)” [FN 20]
[FN 20] DeVita v. County of Napa, supra, 9 Cal.4th 763, 776.
In Committee of Seven Thousand v. Superior Court, [FN 21] the California Supreme
Court addressed the question whether, and under what circumstances, a statutory
reference to action by a local legislative body indicates a legislative intent to preclude
action on the same subject by initiative. The case involved a statute which permitted the
County of Orange and cities within Orange County to adopt programs imposing major
development and bridge fees to fund construction of major thoroughfares in the county.
[FN 22] As enacted, the enabling statute stated “‘[t]he board of supervisors of the County of
Orange and the city council of any city in that county may, by ordinance, require the
payment of a fee . . . for purposes of defraying the actual or estimated cost
of . . . constructing major thoroughfares.’” [FN 23]
[FN 21] Committee of Seven Thousand v. Superior Court (1988) 45 Cal.3d 491.
[FN 22] Committee of Seven Thousand v. Superior Court, supra, 45 Cal.3d 491, 496.
[FN 23] Committee of Seven Thousand v. Superior Court, supra, 45 Cal.3d 491, 501, italics
added by court.
The Orange County Board of Supervisors, the Irvine City Council, and other
governing bodies within the area, adopted such fee programs. An unincorporated
nonprofit association of residents and electors of the City of Irvine -— the Committee of
Seven Thousand —- organized for the purpose of qualifying an initiative measure. The
initiative, in essence, would have prohibited the Irvine City Council from imposing or
collecting any fee or tax to fund construction of thoroughfares except by an affirmative
vote of a majority of the qualified electors of the city in a regular or special election. [FN 24]
[FN 24] Committee of Seven Thousand v. Superior Court, supra, 45 Cal.3d 491, 498.
The court reviewed earlier decisions and adopted guidelines for determining when
the legislative intent to delegate exclusive authority to the local governing bodies is
present. In general, those factors are whether the Legislature used general or specific
language in describing the governing body in the statute at issue, and whether the subject
matter of the statute involves a strictly municipal affair or involves a matter of statewide
concern. The court explained: “Over the years this court has struggled with the question
whether a statutory reference to action by a local legislative body indicates a legislative
intent to preclude action on the same subject by the electorate. A review of these
decisions supports the conclusion that while such references are generally not conclusive
as to legislative intent, they do support an inference that the intent was to preclude action
by initiative or referendum. Review of the case law further suggests that the strength of
the inference varies according to the precise language used in the statute, a reference
using generic language such as ‘governing body’ or ‘legislative body’ supporting a
weaker inference than a specific reference to boards of supervisors and city councils. A
third conclusion to be drawn is that an intent to exclude ballot measures is more readily
inferred if the statute addresses a matter of statewide concern rather than a purely
municipal affair.” [FN 25]
[FN 25] Committee of Seven Thousand v. Superior Court, supra, 45 Cal.3d 491, 501.
Applying these guidelines, the court found the Legislature’s use of the terms
“board of supervisors” and “city council” in the statute provided a “strong inference”
action by initiative was barred. [FN 26]
[FN 26] Committee of Seven Thousand v. Superior Court, supra, 45 Cal.3d 491, 505.
The court next considered whether the subject matter involved a municipal affair
or involved a matter of statewide concern. The court defined the term “statewide” in this
context to mean a reference “to all matters of more than local concern and thus includes
matters the impact of which is primarily regional rather than truly statewide.” [FN 27]
The court observed construction of major highways had effects beyond municipal boundaries
because they were to be used primarily “for travel between cities rather than within
cities.” [FN 28] The court noted the statewide character could also be inferred “from the nature
of the facilities themselves,” because no single city could efficiently plan and build
additions to a regional highway system alone. [FN 29] Because the contemplated highways
were necessarily regional, the court noted there would likely be “substantial impacts on
persons living outside the boundaries of the city and so are matters of statewide
concern.” [FN 30]
[FN 27] Committee of Seven Thousand v. Superior Court, supra, 45 Cal.3d 491, 505.
[FN 28] Committee of Seven Thousand v. Superior Court, supra, 45 Cal.3d 491, 506.
[FN 29] Committee of Seven Thousand v. Superior Court, supra, 45 Cal.3d 491, 506.
[FN 30] Committee of Seven Thousand v. Superior Court, supra, 45 Cal.3d 491, 506; see
also, DeVita v. County of Napa, supra, 9 Cal.4th 763, 780 [“the Legislature’s
constitutional authority to restrict the local right of initiative or referendum generally
derives from its partial preemption of local government authority pursuant to the
fulfillment of a state mandate or objective. [Citations.] Only in matters that transcend
local concerns can the Legislature have intended to convert the city and county governing
bodies into its exclusive agents for the achievement of a ‘legislative purpose of statewide
The Legislature’s use of the specific terms “board of supervisors” and “city
council,” and the subject matter of the statute involving a matter of statewide concern,
combined to convince the court the Legislature intended the discretionary authority
delegated by the statute “be exercised by the local legislative bodies specifically and
exclusively, thereby precluding use of the initiative and referendum in this limited area.”
[FN 31] Committee of Seven Thousand v. Superior Court, supra, 45 Cal.3d 491, 512.
In some cases, exclusive delegation was inferred in part on the ground the
Legislature must have intended to prevent disruption of routine operations of
government. The decision in Bagley v. City of Manhattan Beach [FN 32] is one such case.
Bagley involved a statute specifying, “By resolution or ordinance, the city council shall
fix the compensation of all appointive officers and employees.” [FN 33] A proposed initiative
measure provided any and all unresolved disputes between the city and a recognized
firemen’s employee organization should be submitted to binding arbitration. The city
refused to place the measure on the ballot and the initiative’s proponents sought a writ of
mandate to compel the city to place the measure on the ballot. [FN 34] The Supreme Court
affirmed the lower courts’ rulings refusing relief, finding the city council had no power to
delegate its statutory duty to fix compensation in any event. “When the Legislature has
made clear its intent that one public body or official is to exercise a specified
discretionary power, the power is in the nature of a public trust and may not be exercised
by others in the absence of statutory authorization. [Citations.]” [FN 35]
[FN 32] Bagley v. City of Manhattan Beach (1976) 18 Cal.3d 22.
[FN 33] Bagley v. City of Manhattan Beach, supra, 18 Cal.3d 22, 24.
[FN 34] Bagley v. City of Manhattan Beach, supra, 18 Cal.3d 22, 24.
[FN 35] Bagley v. City of Manhattan Beach, supra, 18 Cal.3d 22, 24-25.
Citizens for Jobs and the Economy v. County of Orange [FN 36] presents another such
example. The voters passed a county initiative which placed spending and procedural
restrictions on the county board of supervisors regarding the planning and
implementation process for specified projects, including the conversion to civilian use of
the Marine Corps Air Station at El Toro. The Court of Appeal held the initiative was
beyond the power of the electorate because it interfered with essential government
functions of fiscal planning and land use, interfered with the county’s administrative
actions, and in addition, was unconstitutionally vague. [FN 37]
[FN 36] Citizens for Jobs and the Economy v. County of Orange (2002) 94 Cal.App.4th
[fn 37] Citizens for Jobs and the Economy v. County of Orange, supra, 94 Cal.App.4th
In other cases, exclusive delegation has been inferred as a means of promoting a
particular regional project or intergovernmental relationship. The decision in Committee
of Seven Thousand is an example of this type of case. The decision in Riedman v. Brison
is another example. [FN 38] In Riedman, the Supreme Court found the Metropolitan Water
District Act and its procedures by definition concerned regional matters. This fact, and
the statutory reference in the act to the “governing body,” combined to persuade the court
an initiative to withdraw a city from the water district was barred. [FN 39]
[FN 38] Riedman v. Brison (1933) 217 Cal. 383.
[FN 39] Riedman v. Brison, supra, 217 Cal. 383, 387.
We turn now to the case before us. Public Utilities Code section 21661.6
specifically refers to the “board of supervisors” and to the “city council” as the governing
bodies responsible for decisions regarding any expansion or enlargement of an existing
public airport. Use of these specific terms rather than the generic terms of “governing
body” or “legislative body” creates a strong inference the Legislature intended to
preclude action regarding airport expansion or relocation by initiative or referendum.
This inference is strengthened because the statute addresses a matter of statewide
concern rather than a purely municipal matter. The Burbank-Glendale-Pasadena Airport
is, by definition, regional in nature. It is not designed for travel within Burbank, but for
travel between cities, regions, and indeed states. The airport does not only serve the
traveling public from the cities of Burbank, Glendale and Pasadena. It is also the most
convenient airport for many other members of the traveling public who reside in the
greater Los Angeles County area and beyond. Its size, facilities and passenger
accommodations thus affect persons and regions well beyond Burbank’s borders.
The regional nature of the airport is also apparent in the types of carriers it serves.
At present, the Burbank-Glendale-Pasadena airport handles flights for the carriers Alaska
Airlines, Aloha Airlines, American Airlines, American West Airlines, Southwest Airlines
and United Airlines. Some of these carriers are not only regional, but also national in
scope. For this reason, the airport not only accommodates inbound and outbound
passengers from the region but must also accommodate passengers from potentially all
over the world. In this sense, construction and growth at this airport is “truly” a matter of
statewide concern. [FN 40] The Legislature’s expressed goal of encouraging and developing a
statewide system of regional airports further indicates growth or relocation of this
regional airport has statewide import.
[FN 40] Committee of Seven Thousand v. Superior Court, supra, 45 Cal.3d 491, 505.
We also note the airport is not even physically contained within the City of
Burbank. Although most of the airport’s facilities are located in Burbank, some are
located in the City of Los Angeles and thus affect that city as well. The question whether
and how to expand or enlarge this regional airport, located in multiple jurisdictions, will
necessarily affect persons and political subdivisions well beyond the city’s boundaries.
Accordingly, the subject matter of the statute regarding construction to expand or enlarge
the airport cannot be a strictly municipal affair. [FN 41]
[FN 41] See Wilson v. City of San Bernardino (1960) 186 Cal.App.2d 603, 611 [“when a
general law of the state, adopted by the state Legislature, provides for a scheme of public
improvement, the scope of which intrudes upon or transcends the boundary of one or
several municipalities, together with unincorporated territory, such contemplated
improvement ceases to be a municipal affair and comes within the proper domain and
regulation of the general laws of the state.”].
In short, the Legislature’s insertion of a specific reference to city councils in
Public Utilities Code section 21661.6 is evidence of intent to confer authority specifically
and exclusively on the city council on matters of airport expansion or relocation. This
evidence of legislative intent, and the fact the subject matter creates significant regional
impacts in this case, convince us the statute relates to a matter of statewide concern, thus
precluding initiative measures on the subject.
Nolan correctly observes initiative measures may be used to enact or amend
zoning ordinances. He also notes adoption and amendment of a general plan may be the
subject of initiative or referendum even though Government Code section 65356 confers
these powers on the “legislative body.” [FN 42] Accordingly, Nolan asserts Measure A is
merely a zoning ordinance to which airports are subject.
[FN 42] DeVita v. County of Napa, supra, 9 Cal.4th 763, 776 [initiative to amend county’s
general plan to preserve agricultural land upheld]; Yost v. Thomas (1984) 36 Cal.3d 561
[referendum on general plan amendment upheld]; Arnel Development Co. v. City of Costa
Mesa (1980) 28 Cal.3d 511 [zoning initiative in general law city valid]; Associated Home
Builders etc., Inc. v. City of Livermore, supra, 18 Cal.3d 582 [zoning ordinance proper
subject matter for initiative measure]; Pala Bank of Mission Indians v. Board of
Supervisors (1997) 54 Cal.App.4th 565 [portion of initiative amending general plan and
zoning ordinance valid].
We agree airports are subject to local zoning ordinances. [FN 43] However, we have
already concluded the subject at issue in this case presents a matter of statewide concern,
unlike a zoning ordinance affecting only the municipality’s interest. Moreover, the cases
Nolan relies on are inapposite. Each in fact involved a local zoning ordinance or local
general plan measure adopted by initiative or referendum—matters traditionally deemed
to be municipal affairs. [FN 44]
[FN 43] City of Burbank v. Burbank-Glendale-Pasadena Airport Authority, supra, 72
Cal.App.4th 366, 375 [“Local agencies created under state law must comply with the
City’s building and zoning ordinances.”].
[FN 44] In discussing most of these decisions the Supreme Court in Committee of Seven
Thousand v. Superior Court, supra, 45 Cal.3d 491 commented, “in all these cases the
statutes dealt with purely local concerns and, as we have noted, the term ‘legislative
body’ is more easily read as including the electorate than the terms ‘city council’ or
‘board of supervisors.’” (Id. at pp. 504-505.)
Nolan next argues even if Measure A is invalid as an initiative measure the fact
should be of no consequence because he claims Burbank already gave up its discretionary
powers over airport growth issues. Years earlier the voters adopted Measure B which
apparently mandates voter approval of Burbank City Council decisions to relocate or
expand the airport terminal. Nolan claims by ceding to the voters the right to pass on the
Burbank City Council’s exercise of its rights conferred on it by Public Utilities Code
section 21661.6, Burbank already delegated its exclusive statutory authority to the
voters. [FN 45]
[FN 45] But see, City of Burbank v. Burbank-Glendale-Pasadena Airport Authority, supra,
72 Cal.App.4th 366, 376-377.
The validity of Measure B was not before the trial court. Any issues regarding
Measure B are necessarily not before this court either. We accordingly have no occasion
to pass on the wisdom or validity of this initiative measure and decline any invitation to
do so here.
The overriding purpose of Measure A is to impose procedural hurdles and specific
restrictions on expanding or enlarging the airport directly, as well as indirectly through
the conditions it sought to impose on Burbank and the Airport Authority. We have
concluded in enacting Public Utilities Code section 21661.6 the Legislature intended the
authority it delegated be exercised by the city council in this case specifically and
exclusively, precluding use of an initiative in this area. This conclusion makes it
unnecessary to consider other grounds relied on by the trial court to find Measure A
III. NOLAN’S PROCEDURAL CHALLENGES TO THE ACTION HAVE
Code of Civil Procedure section 1060 authorizes actions for a declaratory
judgment and provides: “Any person . . . who desires a declaration of his or her rights or
duties with respect to another, . . . may, in cases of actual controversy relating to the legal
rights and duties of the respective parties, bring an original action . . . in the superior
court for a declaration of his or her rights and duties in the premises . . . .” Under this
section, a municipality is considered a person for purposes of seeking declaratory relief.
[FN 46] Hoyt v. Board of Civil Service Commissioners of the City of Los Angeles (1942) 21
Cal.2d 399, 404.
Nolan contends the trial court erred in overruling the Airport Authority’s
demurrer, claiming there was no actual controversy between Burbank and the Airport
Authority and thus this action for declaratory relief should have been dismissed.
The trial court’s determination whether declaratory relief should be granted will
not be disturbed on appeal in the absence of a clear showing of an abuse of discretion.
[FN 47] Auberry Union School Dist. v. Rafferty (1964) 226 Cal.App.2d 599, 602.
Declaratory relief is appropriate where there is a justiciable controversy, but not
where the dispute is moot, or only hypothetical or academic. [FN 48]
Contrary to Nolan’s argument, an actual justiciable controversy may exist even though the parties are not
antagonistic, and in fact desire the same result. For example, in Golden Gate Bridge and
Highway Dist. v. Felt, [FN 49] the secretary of the board of directors of the Golden Gate Bridge
and Highway District refused to sign bonds proposed to be issued by the district,
believing them invalid. It was a friendly suit because the secretary’s and the district’s
views were aligned. [FN 50] A declaratory relief action was nevertheless appropriate because
any action he took prior to a judicial declaration of the bonds’ validity exposed the
secretary to liability. In finding the action for declaratory relief proper, the court
observed “[i]f respondent’s contention is sound, and he were forced to sign, he would be
acting in violation of his public duty, and assisting in the deception of prospective
purchasers of the bonds. He is not bound to take a step which might conceivably involve
a personal liability on his part in the event of a subsequent judicial declaration of
unconstitutionality of the act, or falsity of the recitals in the bonds.” [FN 51]
[FN 48] Auberry Union School Dist. v. Rafferty, supra, 226 Cal.App.2d 599, 603.
[FN 49] Golden Gate Bridge and Highway Dist. v. Felt (1931) 214 Cal. 308.
[FN 50] Golden Gate Bridge and Highway Dist. v. Felt, supra, 214 Cal. 308, 316 [“It is
conceded that respondent secretary is personally desirous of a decision in favor of
petitioner. In other words, this is a friendly suit.”].
[FN 51] Golden Gate Bridge and Highway Dist. v. Felt, supra, 214 Cal. 308, 317; see also,
City and County of San Francisco v. Boyd (1943) 22 Cal.2d 685, 694-695 [“A suit is not
condemned by law merely because it is friendly.”].
Similarly in the case at bar, the trial court correctly found an actual controversy
existed. If Burbank enforced Measure A’s provisions by refusing to issue permits and
give its consent to proposed airport projects until the Airport Authority proved it had
complied with all the preconditions in Measure A, the Airport Authority would have
brought suit against Burbank. Indeed, the day after the election the president of the
Airport Authority wrote to warn the mayor “The City faces potentially significant
liability in damages and attorneys fees to land owners and businesses whose rights would
be adversely affected if the measure is enforced.” On the other hand, if Burbank refused
to implement Measure A without first receiving a judicial ruling on the measure’s
validity, proponents of the measure would likely have sued the City of Burbank had the
city not brought its own suit as quickly as it did. As it is, Nolan’s presence in the lawsuit,
as an intervener and a principal proponent of Measure A, provides the requisite adversity.
Next Nolan argues Burbank lacked standing to challenge one of its duly passed
laws. He contends if Burbank wanted to challenge Measure A it was bound to do so prior
to the election. Now Measure A has been adopted by the electorate, Nolan contends
Burbank must enforce, and is forever precluded from challenging one of its existing laws.
In support of his argument Nolan relies on Election Code section 9217 and the decisions
in Proposition 103 Enforcement Project v. Quackenbush, [FN 52] Mobilepark West
Homeowners Association v. Escondido Mobilepark West [FN 53] and other cases for the
proposition an initiative, once passed, cannot be “repealed or amended except by a vote
of the people.” [FN 54]
[FN 52] Proposition 103 Enforcement Project v. Quackenbush (1998) 64 Cal.App.4th
1473, 1483-1484 [“When a statute enacted by the initiative process is involved, the
Legislature may amend it only if the voters specifically gave the Legislature that power,
and then only upon whatever conditions the voters attached to the Legislature’s
[FN 53] Mobilepark West Homeowners Assn. v. Escondido Mobilepark West (1995) 35
Cal.App.4th 32, 40-41.
[FN 54] Election Code section 9217.
Nolan’s authority is not on point. This action is not one to amend or repeal
Measure A. It is instead an action seeking a judicial determination of the measure’s
validity in the first instance. Unlike the situations in Nolan’s cited authorities, Burbank
did not pass legislation which had the effect of either amending or repealing Measure A.
Nor is Burbank bound to enforce Measure A simply because it chose not to make
a preelection challenge to its validity. Nolan cites no authority to support this particular
contention. Court challenges both preelection and post adoption have been held to be
appropriate. [FN 55] Although preelection challenges are not uncommon, it is equally
appropriate to permit the measure to be placed on the ballot and then to seek review of its
validity post election. [FN 56] Indeed, in Brosnahan v. Eu, [FN 57] our Supreme Court observed, “it is
usually more appropriate to review constitutional and other challenges to ballot
propositions or initiative measures after an election rather than to disrupt the electoral
process by preventing the exercise of the people’s franchise, in the absence of some clear
showing of invalidity.” [FN 58]
[FN 55] See e.g., City of Irvine v. Irvine Citizens Against Overdevelopment (1994) 25
Cal.App.4th 868, 874 [city has standing to make a preelection challenge to a proposed
[FN 56] See Citizens for Responsible Behavior v. Superior Court (1991) 1 Cal.App.4th
1013, 1022 [“postelection review -— assuming that the measure in question passes -— is
certainly preferable. . . .” Italics added.].
[FN 57] Brosnahan v. Eu (1982) 31 Cal.3d 1.
[FN 58] Brosnahan v. Eu, supra, 31 Cal.3d 1, 4.
In sum, Nolan’s procedural challenges are not well taken.
The judgment is affirmed. Costs on appeal are awarded to Burbank.