Oakland Airport Development Plan Halted by Court of Appeals

AUGUST 31, 2001

A state appeals court unanimously ruled Thursday the environmental work justifying a $1.4 billion expansion of Oakland International Airport is invalid and must be redone. In a victory for Alameda and San Leandro residents, the First District Court of Appeals panel found the airport failed to properly account for overnight jet noise and air pollution and inadequately planned to protect the western burrowing owl.

The strongly-worded 59-page ruling requires the airport to start over with a new environmental impact report (EIR) for its development plan. "The Port Commission shall be ordered not to take any further action to approve the project without the preparation, circulation and consideration under (state environmental laws) of a legally adequate EIR," the court ruled.

Thursday's decision comes just three weeks after the Oakland Port Commission OK'd the plan, which calls for 12 new departure gates, a seven-story parking garage and an almost doubling of the size of the terminal.

Airport officials and their critics expect that the expansion, slated to begin in a year and finish in 2010, will be delayed about 18 months.

Aviation Director Steve Grossman said he was disappointed in the ruling. "Clearly it's very bad news," he said. "I can't tell you what it means yet. We'll be looking at all our options."

The airport's legal opponents were feeling vindicated in their long struggle against the proposed expansion, particularly as the appellate court ordered the Alameda County Superior Court to reassess the amount of legal fees the airport will have to pay.

Prevailing were the City of Alameda; the Citizens League for Airport Safety & Serenity (CLASS), a coalition of homeowner groups; and Berkeley Keep Jets Over the Bay Committee. The City of San Leandro had previously settled its lawsuit against the airport.

"It means from our perspective they have to start over. We're hoping that this means the Port sits down and talks to the city of Alameda," City Attorney Carol Korade said. "The proposed expansion will not happen for at least another year."

Litigants challenged the Port's original EIR in 1997, prompting a supplemental study in 1999, which in turn was challenged. The Alameda County Superior Court agreed that the environmental work was good enough and issued a writ allowing the airport to proceed with its expansion. The coalition appealed the decision, which was settled Thursday.

The appeals court had damning opinions about the supplemental work. "In preparing the (supplemental) EIR, it is clear the Port did not endeavor to correct any of the deficiencies identified in the EIR rejected by the trial court," the court ruled. "The court's decision to short-circuit the process ... entertained piecemeal environmental review and the complete disregard of the significant environmental issues raised in petitioners' pending appeals," the court found.

"There's no question that noise emanating from this airport remains a concern on the part of this city. It's a constant source of annoyance for the residents," said San Leandro City Manager John Jermanis. "It may serve to improve the situation."

Source: In part, Oakland Tribune