Court Rules Local Power Supersedes Federal in Airport Expansion

NOVEMBER 1, 1997

The Los Angeles Times (Metro; Part B; Page 1; Metro Desk) reports that a judge ruled in favor or the city of Burbank, California, in its attempt to control noise and traffic at the Burbank airport. Superior Court Judge Carl J. West ruled that no expansion can take place at the facility without the city's approval. The decision requires airport officials to abide by the planning decisions of local communities. The article quotes the judge as saying, "The question is whether you can take away from a local community the right to review an expansion in that community. I don't think federal authority goes that far." After the judge's decision, Burbank attorney Peter Kirsch said, "We have been victorious, not just legally, but in the ability to protect the noise environment around the airport."

According to the article, Burbank and the airport have been involved for years in a dispute over a planned new 19-gate terminal with the potential to eventually add eight gates. The larger debate about the city's authority over the airport goes back to the early seventies, resulting in one precedent-setting U.S. Supreme Court case in 1973 regarding noise.

Burbank officials attempted to stop the construction project by citing a section of the state Public Utility Code, which grants California cities authority over the expansion of airports within their boundaries. In a counter argument, the airport authority said the state code was preempted by federal rules that bar "non-proprietors", in this case Burbank, from governing aircraft operations and safety. Therefore, according to the airport authority, the city has no power to veto the expansion plan.

But Burbank attorneys argued that the airport was trying to carve out broader powers for the federal government than Congress intended. "This case is about the sovereignty of the state of California," said Burbank attorney Perry Rosen. The Federal Aviation Administration "is in charge of air safety. But the question of where to locate airports . . . is specifically relegated to the state."

The article notes that airport authorities will not give up their plans to expand. Airport attorney Richard Simon said: "This project isn't going away. . .."And while city council members are elated about their victory, they are also realistic, realizing that the battle against airport construction is far from over.

[See two related cases in the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of appeals: City of Burbank v. FAA (March 12, 1998), in which the cities of Burbank and Los Angeles challenged the FAA's environmental impact report on expansion of the Burbank airport, and Airport Authority v. City of Burbank (March 2,1998), in which the airport tried to prevent the city from reviewing plans to acquire land for airport expansion.]