APRIL 9, 2001
SAN JOSE, CALIFORNIA
A federal judge warned the City of San Jose today that he is considering ruling that the nighttime curfew at San Jose International Airport is illegal.
The city is facing a legal challenge to its 11:30 p.m. airport takeoff and landing curfew from software mogul Larry Ellison. Today Judge Jeremy Fogel warned lead city attorney Michael Gatzke that if he had to rule on the legality of the curfew, the city may not like the result. "If I get there it may be the airport doesn't have a curfew anymore," Fogel said.
The airport's curfew prohibits any airplane weighing over 75,000 pounds from taking off or landing between 11:30 p.m. and 6:30 a.m. Ellison filed suit in U.S. District Court in San Jose in January 2000 because he believes that the curfew should not apply to his $38 million Gulfstream V, which is quieter than several older aircraft models using the airport that are under the weight limit. Fully fueled, the Gulfstream V weighs approximately 90,500 pounds.
Fogel has tried on several occasions to cajole the two sides into some sort of compromise that would allow Ellison's plane to land without invalidating the curfew. However, the city has repeatedly refused to modify any part of its curfew ordinance.
City officials fear that if Ellison is granted an exemption, it may cause the Federal Aviation Administration to toss the entire curfew out as being too arbitrary. Any change in the curfew's status would delay or even kill the airport's planned $1.5 billion expansion project because the project's environmental impact report is based on a curfew that curtails large numbers of late-night flights into the airport.
Ellison's attorneys say city officials appear to be playing a game of chicken with Fogel because the city does not think the judge will take the drastic step of actually invalidating the curfew. If he does, they believe the blame will not fall on them, according to Edward Davis, attorney for Ellison. "I think they want to throw it out and then blame it on Larry Ellison," Davis said. "They seem set on this course of creating a train wreck and then exaggerating how bad it could be."
A spokesman for Mayor Ron Gonzales denied that they city has any ulterior motive of that type. The city's only motivation is to protect city residents from excess airport noise, according to mayoral spokesman David Vossbrink. "Our motivation all along has been to protect residents in nearby neighborhoods," Vossbrink said.
Fogel took the matter under submission. A ruling on a preliminary injunction is not expected until next week. Potentially, he could invalidate the city curfew at that time, Davis said.
Source: Channel 11, San Jose, MSNBC