School Group Challenges Long Beach Airport's Environmental Impact Report

MARCH 15, 2007

The city of Long Beach did not adequately study potential noise and air quality impacts of planned Long Beach Airport terminal improvements, according to a lawsuit filed Thursday by the Long Beach Unified School District's umbrella parent-teachers association. The Long Beach Council PTA - which represents about 15,000 parents, teachers and other adults in LBUSD schools - said that the city's environmental impact report on the project did not consider the additional daily flights that could be accommodated by the proposed airport expansion.

Additional flights would produce more noise and air pollution that would be harmful to children and schools, said Birgit De la Torre, the organization's director of legislation. "Before deciding on a big project, such as the airport expansion, we need to know all potential environmental impacts," she said. "The PTA have carefully reviewed the airport (environmental impact report and) submitted our comments at various stages of the process. We have come to the point where we believe that we have no other recourse but to file a legal action," arguing that the city violated the California Environmental Quality Act by certifying an inadequate report, she said.

The Long Beach City Council certified the EIR last summer. A certified EIR is required before the council could decide to move ahead with the improvement project, which would increase the terminal size from 56,320 square feet to a maximum of 97,545 square feet. The project calls for expanded terminal space, ticketing counters, hold rooms and concession areas.

The lawsuit, filed in Los Angeles Superior Court, asks the court to order the city to redo the EIR to address the PTA's concerns.

The number of flights at the airport is limited by a city noise ordinance and will not be affected by the project, said City Attorney Bob Shannon. "There will be no increased flights because of this project," Shannon said. The EIR "fully complied with all the law," he said. "And that's been our position from the very beginning."

But PTA attorney John Eastman said he worries that federal or regional air authorities could override the local noise ordinance, allowing the airport to increase daily flights. "The noise ordinance is not worth the paper it's printed on," he said.

The Long Beach Unified School District raised similar criticisms of the EIR in a lawsuit it filed against the city last year. "The PTA has every right to voice its concerns over the project," said LBUSD spokesman Chris Eftychiou. "Apparently the parents feel they were unable to do so through the EIR (review and approval) process. "The PTA's lawsuit bolsters our assertion that the EIR process was flawed."

Eastman and Shannon expect that the PTA and LBUSD lawsuits will be consolidated by the court and considered in the same judicial proceeding. The district's lawsuit is being transferred from Los Angeles Superior Court to Orange County to ensure neutrality, Eftychiou said.