City Seeks to Enjoin Noise Demonstration Flights

MAY 26, 1999

The City of Irvine filed a petition for writ of mandate and complaint for injunctive and declaratory relief challenging Orange County's decision to conduct noise demonstration flights in anticipation of converting the former El Toro Marine Corps Air Station to a commercial airfield.

The suit was filed May 26, 1999 in the Orange County Superior Court (Case No. 80-98-96). The attorneys for the City of Irvine are Caldwell, Leslie, Newcombe & Pettit, 606 S. Olive Street, Suite 500, Los Angeles, CA 90014-1507, telephone 213.629.9040.

The city alleges that the county Board of Supervisors' May 18 approval of demonstration flights and its determination that the flights were exempt from the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) constituted a prejudicial abuse of discretion because the county failed to perform any environmental review for the project as required by CEQA.

According the to the city's complaint none of the categorical exemptions identified by the Board of Supervisors in their May 18 action are applicable to the proposed project. First, the demonstration flights are not consistent with operations at the former El Toro military airbase at the time the demonstration flights were approved because regular aviation uses have ceased at the base, and the flights represent significant new uses of the facility (Guidelines s. 15301).

Second, the demonstration flights are not a valid effort to collect data, they will result in a serious environmental disturbance, and relate to an action that the County already has attempted to approve (Guidelines s. 15306). Third, the demonstration flights are not consistent with any normal operations at the El Toro military airbase during the last three years, nor do the demonstration flights involve use of an existing facility for public gatherings (Guidelines s. 15323).

Even if the demonstration flights otherwise qualified for any of these categorical exemptions, the complaint alleges, they do not deserve categorical exemption because they will have a significant effect on the environment due to the unusual circumstances of the proposed project (Guidelines s. 15300.2(c)).

In addition, according to the complaint, the Board of Supervisors' action impermissibly "piecemeals" its proposal to construct and operate a commercial airport at the former El Toro military airbase, by treating that project as multiple smaller projects for purposes of environmental review. Such piecemealing prevents the reviewing agency from accurately evaluating the entire project's impact, thereby resulting in underestimation of and failure to disclose significant environmental impacts.