Dogfight Over Torrance Airport : Officials Spurn Truce, Say 'See You in Court'

Times Staff Writer

The City Council has taken the offensive in the battle over noise-reducing regulations at Torrance Municipal Airport, spurning an offer by attorney/pilot Clark Garen for a conciliatory meeting to settle his lawsuits out of court.

"I would say that Mr. Garen has set the battle line and the battle place and I am confident that the city's point of view will prevail," said Councilwoman Katy Geissert. "We will have this issue settled in the courts.

"Mr. Garen speaks of fair treatment. Well, that's like the kid who stands there and kicks someone and says 'If you give me my way, I'll stop kicking you.' "

"It is now in the hands of the attorneys," Mayor Jim Armstrong said calmly.

Garen had made his offer to set up an advisory committee meeting among himself, Mayor Armstrong and Torrance attorney Peter Lacombe, who has volunteered to provide free legal advice to residents served with one of Garen's two lawsuits.

Lacombe said he represents about 30 residents who have been served; Garen has said more than 50 have been served. The second lawsuit was filed against the city itself.

Garen had also promised not to serve any more residents with lawsuits or stage any more noise-making flyovers at the airport. He said he wants to "create a climate where such a (committee) has the maximum likelihood to succeed."

Garen told the City Council on Tuesday that his suggested committee was a responsible way to resolve the problem.

"We can continue to subject thousands of innocent citizens to unnecessary suffering, or we can sit down as responsible adults and try to solve the problem," he said. "We can lay down our arms, so to speak, and make an attempt to solve the problem. If it is unsuccessful, we can always go back to the courts and to the flyovers."

Garen left the meeting before council members rejected his offer. When told Wednesday of the council's comments, Garen said he remains optimistic that a committee will be formed.

"I said the offer would remain open for a reasonable amount of time," he said. "I suggested that the community communicate to their elected officials their feelings about this situation. I am optimistic that the elected politicians will eventually recognize the suffering they will be causing thousands of innocent people, and then they will take appropriate action.

"I am equally confident that if they fail to take this appropriate action the community will begin recall efforts to replace them with politicians that are able to run the city."

Attorney Lacombe also spoke during the public portion of the council meeting. He asked City Atty. Stanley Remelmeyer to file a friend-of-the-court brief in a petition to move the Superior Court suit filed against the homeowners to the U. S. District Court. The petition will be heard Feb. 27.

Remelmeyer said the city is seeking the best way to assist homeowners in the Superior Court suit, which carries the threat that their homes could be razed. He said a decision, which could include the petition to consolidate the two suits in federal court, will be made within two weeks.

Lacombe, who reiterated his offer to represent homeowners at no cost and for prorated court costs, also noted Garen's change of tone.

"We have noticed a tempering of the pilots' attitudes in recent days and hope this will lead to a quiet resolution of the differences that exist," Lacombe said. "It should be known, however, that we intend to fight the court action."

In a related matter, Michael Bedinger, president of the Council of Homeowners' Assn. of Torrance and longtime advocate of noise reduction near the airport, and Thomas Nosek, a member of the Citizens Advisory Committee on Noise, were appointed to the Airport Commission. Derf Fredericks, considered to be pro-pilot, was denied reappointment to the commission he joined in June, 1983.

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