Guest Column: Airport development may be a terminal mistake

Roughly 14 months from now I expect a howl of outrage will roll across Burbank, one angry enough to ignite politics, enrage residents, terrify many who've bought homes, and create a tsunami of activists with furious charges of corruption, double-dealing and government secrecy.

Worse, I'm gravely concerned it will come far too late to do anything productive for the city's residents and businesses.

At a Nov. 14 meeting of Burbank's City Council and the Airport Authority operating Bob Hope Airport, a council majority approved hiring a firm to study a “concept” for replacing the existing terminal, and installing up to 3 million square feet of development on 58 acres next to the new terminal.

The airport and City Hall have not kept this secret. The plan did rocket from a blank slate, to idyllic promises of jobs, with maps and color renderings in just weeks. But both agencies exceeded the legal minimums for public notices. Perhaps the only step overlooked was taking the hand of each resident who may one day face gridlocked traffic, more aircraft noise, or just office space where we need something else, and walking them to the meeting.

At the Nov. 14 session, where the council could have slashed the 58-acre concept to 1.5 million square feet, or 1 million, but did neither, there were only six Burbank residents not paid or elected to attend. And some were among those familiar characters who attend every meeting, apparently to speak whenever the cameras are on.

My fear is the study will suffer similar apathy, tacitly concluding the impacts of a terminal and 58 acres of development are fair exchange for the vague promise of jobs, and easily fixed by just tweaking traffic lanes and signals. Officials may claim this course is endorsed by residents and business people given their lack of concern. When the properties are on the brink of changing hands, only then will Burbankers awaken to recognize the monster given life back in 2013.

Some ignoring current events may rely on Burbank's “Measure B,” which assures us no new terminal can proceed without voter approval. But that pretends the agencies involved, and the special interests with untold millions at stake in the 58-acre development, would not exert massive effort to win an election, or that eliminating the chance of any replacement terminal virtually in perpetuity is in Burbank's best interest. I believe both assumptions are reckless.

Not paying attention now invites a later war in the worst possible circumstances, rushed in a few weeks, alongside council campaigns and elections. That means accusations and claims, campaign war chests, anonymous mailers, and all the hallmarks of a nasty fight, with every player swearing only they are honest merchants of truth. Moreover, the 58-acre project could proceed even if the terminal — which I believe has several positive aspects — were rejected by voters.

I urge Burbank residents to learn about the environmental impact review process underway. Visit websites for the city and the airport to sign up for notices of every public meeting, and when the environmental review process solicits public comment and questions, participate! Help point the projects where you want them headed today, instead of trying to stop them or save them at the last minute in 2015.

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WILL ROGERS, a resident of Burbank, can be reached at WillRogersHome@earthlink.net.

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