Shot Fired for Homeowners in Legal War Over Airport

Times Staff Writer

Another volley has been fired in the legal battle over noise regulations at Torrance Municipal Airport, this one a legal petition that could protect any more homeowners near the airport from being served with a suit that threatens to raze their homes.

Attorney Peter Lacombe, who has volunteered to act for the homeowners, has asked the U.S. District Court to take over jurisdiction of the suit, which was filed in Los Angeles Superior Court on Dec. 14.

A U.S. District Court judge will hear Lacombe's petition Feb. 27.

The suit against the homeowners, filed by pilot/attorney Clark Garen on behalf of the Save Our Airport From Restriction committee, says homeowners who complain that the airport is interfering with the enjoyment of their property should have their homes condemned. The suit says the deed agreement that transferred ownership of the airport from the federal government to the city in 1948 prohibits the city from allowing land near the airport to be used in a manner that would limit the "usefulness" of the airport.

Specific Defendants

In a separate suit filed against the city in federal court, Garen claims the city violated that portion of the deed. He is asking the court to force the city to rescind all noise-reducing regulations at the airport, condemn the homes of those homeowners who complain that the airport is too noisy and turn control of the airport back to the federal government.

Lacombe said that with his petition to change jurisdiction over Garen's suit, Garen is prohibited from serving any more residents. Also, Lacombe said, Garen will have to name specific defendants in his suit because federal court does not allow unnamed defendants. The Superior Court suit names only Frank Schilling and 20,000 John Does living within a five-mile radius of the airport.

Garen would not say specifically how many homeowners have been served notice of the suit, saying only that it was "more than two dozen but less than 100." Garen has not filed an amendment to the suit listing the names of people he has served.

"The basis for the petition is that there are federal issues involved," said Lacombe, a Torrance corporate attorney who has volunteered to give free legal advice to homeowners.

"I think it is a good move," said City Atty. Stanley Remelmeyer, whose office has also offered advice to homeowners served with the suit. "The underlining basis of both suits is the same. The legal questions are the same."

Garen said he does not care where the suit is heard, and he disputes Lacombe's claims that the notices can no longer be served.

"All I have to do is serve a copy of the petition of removal (to federal court) with the suit," Garen said, adding that the petition is "just going to confuse people about where they should file their responses."

Meanwhile, the city has asked the Federal Aviation Administration to man the airport's control tower until midnight Monday night in an effort to curtail a planned "flyover" of the residential area near the airport. Pilots associated with Save Our Airport From Restriction said last week they plan to fly at an altitude of 1,000 feet after 8 p.m. Monday when the control tower usually closes and jurisdiction shifts to FAA and federal regulations.

The FAA has no noise regulations and only requires planes to fly at a minimum altitude of 1,000 feet when flying over the airport and surrounding area.

Garen said the aerial demonstration is an attempt to create enough noise so that residents will complain to the City Council at Tuesday's meeting.

Garen said a manned tower will not deter the demonstration and only indicates that the city does not know how to operate an airport.

"That's proof that the city is ignorant of the airways they are trying to regulate," Garen said. "We're still entitled to fly over the area if we get permission from the tower. The tower's sole function is to separate aircraft. They won't deny us permission to fly over because it is against federal rules to enforce local ordinances.

"Besides, (the tower) can't regulate through-flights just because residents don't want to be flown over. The first time the FAA enforces local regulations, then Inglewood can regulate how airplanes going to LAX (Los Angeles International Airport) fly over the city. Ain't no way the federal government is going to let Torrance interrupt the entire system."

At the urging of neighboring residents, the city has implemented several noise-reducing regulations at the airport. Among the measures are a moratorium on weekend and holiday flight training, the creation of a city administrative hearing board with the power to ban errant pilots and aircraft for repeated violations of the regulations and takeoff procedures that require planes to turn at or before Hawthorne Boulevard, about 8,000 feet from the point of takeoff.

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