Initiative Limiting Airport Growth Declared Unconstitutional

AUGUST 24, 2002

A voter-approved initiative designed to limit growth at the Burbank-Glendale-Pasadena Airport was struck down Friday by a Superior Court judge who called its language vague and unconstitutional.

Measure A, sponsored last year by Restore Our Airport Rights (ROAR), required that a nighttime curfew and cap on flights be imposed before any expansion project could be undertaken at the airport.

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Richard Montes, in a written summary of Friday's decision, found much of the language of the measure was vague and violated the state constitution. "The court declares that Measure A impermissibly interferes with powers delegated exclusively to the Burbank City Council," he wrote.

Although voters overwhelmingly approved Measure A last October, the city filed suit, claiming the measure unconstitutionally restricted its ability to govern. The suit was filed against the Burbank-Glendale-Pasadena Airport Authority because that entity would have been involved in seeking building permits for construction projects. However, the Airport Authority concurred with the city that Measure A was flawed, and it refused to defend the initiative.

ROAR refused to intervene, saying its involvement would lend legitimacy to the city's legal action. So the Burbank City Council turned to the community, agreeing to pay up to $100,000 in legal expenses for community activist Mike Nolan to defend the measure in court.

Burbank officials expressed relief that the judge had ruled in their favor, saying the measure had tied their hands on airport actions and left them vulnerable to lawsuits. "Now the city has an answer," said attorney Peter Kirsh, who advises the city on airport issues. "We were pleased it was a clean decision."

With the defeat of Measure A, ROAR Chairman Howard Rothenbach said the grass-roots organization plans to regroup and decide what to do next. "We're just going to pick ourselves up," Rothenbach said. "It's discouraging, but we still have a lot of options."

Burbank Mayor David Laurell said the city will now work to craft an enforceable, legal moratorium on expansion at the airport. The city, Laurell said, never opposed the spirit of Measure A, just its execution. "It's a great concept," he said. "It's exactly what we wanted in terms of protection, but it was legally flawed. We heard that the majority of our residents want clear protection against the airport. We have to commit ourselves to do everything we can, but legally."

Nolan is unsure whether he will appeal, said his attorney, Dennis Winston. "We are considering our options," Winston said. "We obviously disagreed with the ruling."

While ROAR's primary intent was to limit construction of a new passenger terminal, Measure A instead has stymied city and airport officials as they struggle to comply with a federal mandate to install baggage screening equipment by year's end.

Concerned about the looming deadline, the Airport Authority last Monday approved a $24.5 million contract to build a 40,000-square-foot security annex even though it didn't yet have building permits. Construction began Thursday, and the city almost immediately red-tagged it, meaning work cannot progress until the city approves the plans -- a process likely to take about two weeks.

Source: Los Angeles Daily News