Judge Rules California City Can't Block Airport Expansion Plan

FEBRUARY 19, 1998

The Los Angeles Times reports that a Superior Court judge ruled Wednesday that Burbank, California does not have the power to veto the expansion of the Burbank Airport. According to airport officials, the ruling means that the expansion plans at the airport, which include a new, 19-gate terminal, can go forward without interruption.

The article reports that judge Carl West ruled that the city "expressly and unequivocally" gave the power to buy land for expansion to the Burbank-Glendale-Pasadena Airport Authority. The airport is located in Burbank, but is governed by the authority. According to Richard Simon, a lawyer for the commission that runs the airport, "The judge issued a very thoughtful and very, very strong opinion. It conveyed the idea that this is a regional airport and that a single city can't simply interfere with it."

The article explains that the Burbank City Council and the airport have been fighting over expansion plans for years (see history below). A larger dispute dates back to a 1973 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that barred Burbank from interfering in airport safety and operations. More recently, controlling the airport's growth has been the biggest issue for Burbank, and has set the city against Glendale and Pasadena, which share the management of the airport. In 1980 the Federal Aviation Administration told airport officials that the existing terminal was too close to the runway, but it didn't require that the terminal be relocated.

In 1993, citing the FAA design standards, the airport authority proposed tearing down the old terminal and building a larger one nearby. In 1996, the airport authority decided to purchase 130 acres of adjacent property for the new terminal, but Burbank officials voted the deal down. That led to the recent confrontation in court.

Officials in Burbank, who have struggled to control the noise and traffic congestion they believe the expansion will bring, said they would continue to fight despite the most recent decision. City Councilors said they will ask to appeal the decision at their next meeting Tuesday. Peter Kirsch, an attorney for the city, said, "A victory for us would have made the Airport Authority more likely to negotiate a resolution. We hope they are still interested in reaching a negotiated solution." Kirsch added, "We knew there would be wins and there would be losses. But this does not dampen the city's resolve to fight this battle or its resolve to find a mutually acceptable solution to the current crisis." David Golonski, a Burbank City Councilor, said, "We've always known that this would be a long process with ups and downs. It's always been our position that we will do everything in our power to protect the rights and concerns of our constituents. This doesn't change that."

According to the article, Burbank officials have lobbied for a smaller terminal than the 19-gate one proposed, caps on the number of flights, and late-night and early-morning flight curfews. Burbank City Councilor Ted McConkey said, "We took an oath to protect the health and welfare of the citizens of Burbank. We think it's grossly unfair to have our citizens subjected to the kinds of noise, pollution and strains on the infrastructure that a terminal expansion project will inevitably bring." McConkey said he believed the city would ultimately win in court. Bud Ovrom, the Burbank City Manager, said he thinks court battles could last another five years and could again reach the U.S. Supreme Court.

The article goes on to say that according to Airport Authority officials, the decision could mean that a new terminal will be up in several years. Thomas Greer, the authority Executive Director, said the ideal solution would be to negotiate the details of a new facility with Burbank officials. He said, "I wish we could convince Burbank that the most positive thing they could do is to join hands with us in the designing, construction and ribbon cutting for the gateway to Burbank. This is their front door, and why they are fighting us is beyond me."

The article reports that both sides said the judge worked hard to produce a resolution of the case through negotiations. But apparently, the article says, the efforts were not enough to overcome the complexity and emotion of the long fight.

The following chronology outlines the long conflict between the city of Burbank and the Burbank-Glendale-Pasadena Airport Authority:

May 1973: U.S. Supreme Court rejects Burbank's attempt to limit noise at the airport, ruling federal law supersedes local control over the issue.

June 1976: Burbank-Glendale-Pasadena Airport Authority acquires airport from Lockheed, establishing an agency jointly governed by the three cities.

1980: Airport officials -- under pressure from the Federal Aviation Administration to replace current terminal that is considered too close to runways -- consider building a new terminal.

March 1993: Airport Authority votes to build a 670,000-square-foot terminal with 12,300 parking spaces northeast of runways. Phase I planned to be completed by 1998, Phase II in 2010.

March 1996: FAA approves environmental impact report for new terminal.

August 1996: Airport Authority votes to condemn 130-acre parcel as the site of new, expanded terminal.

October 1996: Burbank City Council votes not to allow airport to acquire property for expansion.

April 1997: Federal judge dismisses case involving airport governing board's lawsuit against the city of Burbank, challenging the city's assertion of veto power over the airport.

May 1997: City of Burbank files lawsuit in Los Angeles County Superior Court aimed at blocking transfer of 130-acre former Lockheed site to Airport Authority.

Oct. 31, 1997: Superior Court judge rules that federal law does not prevent Burbank from blocking purchase of land for terminal expansion.

Feb. 18, 1998: Superior Court judge rules that approval of the city of Burbank is not legally required before expansion.

March 2, 1998: The U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals upholds the April 1997 district court dismissal of the airport authority's suit against Burbank. See Burbank-Glendale-Pasadena Airport Authority v. City of Burbank