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Progress Reported on Airport Negotiations

Times County Bureau Chief

A proposed out-of-court settlement that would allow construction of a new terminal at John Wayne Airport but limit the number of passengers served annually is being negotiated between Newport Beach and the Orange County Board of Supervisors, according to city and county officials.

While encouraged by progress in the once-stalled negotiations, county supervisors are continuing to battle the city in court. Defending their $150-million airport expansion plan, the supervisors on Wednesday asked a state appellate court to remove a lower-court ban on airport planning and construction work.

Ban Imposed by Judge

The ban was imposed by Superior Court Judge Philip E. Schwab on April 26 after the county adopted its airport master plan and increased flights to 55 per day. Schwab found the county in contempt of a 1982 court injunction limiting jet flights to 41 per day.

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The state’s 4th District Court of Appeal in Santa Ana took no action on the county’s request because the county offered no evidence Wednesday that other parties involved in the case, including the City of Newport Beach, had been notified. A ruling is possible today, court officials said.

Mixed Signals Given

Meanwhile, a negotiated settlement that would end 15 years of court fights between Newport Beach and the county appeared close at hand, although both sides gave mixed signals Wednesday about the extent of progress.

Board of Supervisors Chairman Thomas F. Riley said, “I am optimistic at this point that settlement may be possible . . . . I’m very encouraged about what’s happening. We’re closer to agreement than ever before.”

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But other supervisors and city officials said current negotiations are still in the preliminary stages, with both sides still making offers and counteroffers.

The supervisors met in executive session Wednesday morning to consider the remaining issues separating the two sides, but the county’s lawyers were merely instructed to continue negotiating, according to several sources close to board members.

“We don’t want to comment because the negotiations are going through an extremely delicate phase,” said Newport Beach Councilwoman Evelyn Hart.

However, The Times learned from both city and county government sources that Newport Beach has offered to drop all airport litigation against the county in exchange for several county concessions, including:

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- A permanent limit on the number of passengers served annually at John Wayne. Some officials said the city wants to cut the allowable number for the year 2005 to 7 million or 8 million from the currently projected total of 10.24 million. The facility now handles 2.5 million passengers per year, though it was originally designed to handle just 400,000.

- A reduction in the number of older, nosier jetliners allowed to use the facility.

- Procedures for allocating available flights that would somehow prevent new airlines from suing to gain the right to serve John Wayne.

Newport Beach City Council members who requested anonymity said their settlement offer is in some respects modeled after an agreement reached recently in Westchester County, N.Y.

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In the Westchester case, officials said, airlines, homeowners and county officials went before a federal judge with a stipulated judgment eventually approved by the court. The judgment, in effect an in-court settlement, limits the number of passengers that can go though the Westchester airport every 30 minutes and apportions flights by lottery to new air carriers.

In a related development Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Terry M. Hatter Jr. postponed separate federal court proceedings involving the airport dispute until July 22 at the city’s request. A hearing in the case had been scheduled for Monday.

City officials said they sought the postponement to allow more time for negotiations.


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