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Burbank Vows to Keep Fighting Terminal Project

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

As Burbank Airport authorities hailed a court victory, Burbank city officials insisted that the legal fight over airport expansion was far from finished.

At issue was the significance of a Superior Court decision late last week dismissing a lawsuit the city filed in 1996 seeking to limit expansion plans promoted by the Burbank-Glendale-Pasadena Airport Authority.

“The Airport Authority is naive if it believes that this ruling means that this litigation is over,” said Burbank Mayor Bill Wiggins. “The city’s resolve to oppose the Airport Authority’s current plan is unwavering.”

The city has filed numerous lawsuits seeking to limit airport expansion, citing concerns about added traffic congestion and noise.

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“All the lawsuits are important, [but] the city needs to prevail only in one in order to prevent this plan from going forward,” said Peter Kirsch, the city’s special counsel on airport issues. “The Airport Authority, however, must prevail in every suit to implement the plan.”

The recently dismissed lawsuit, filed by Burbank in June against the airport and the cities of Glendale and Pasadena, sought to require that projects such as the terminal expansion be approved by at least two of each city’s three Airport Authority commissioners.

Under rules adopted in 1991, only a simple majority of the nine commissioners is needed to approve such measures.

In dismissing the case, Superior Court Commissioner Emilie Elias said a five-year statute of limitations for challenging the 1991 rules had expired. Elias gave the city 20 days to revive the lawsuit by redrafting its court papers.

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Airport officials, meanwhile, called the court decision a victory, and said it demonstrates that the city’s legal positions on the planned expansion are on shaky ground.

“The court’s decision . . . sends the message to Burbank leaders that they’re not getting much for the nearly $2 million they have spent on attorneys in the past year,” said Thomas E. Greer, executive director of the airport.

Greer called the lawsuit “a futile attempt to gain control of the airport” by the city.

“When the dust settles, it is clear that Burbank wants to control the airport and they are trying every roadblock [to the expansion] that they can, no matter how many times they are told ‘no,’ ” Greer said. “But governance of the airport is not an issue that is up for discussion among the three cities.”

Last week’s court ruling is the latest in a series of setbacks for the city in its attempt to block the terminal expansion, which officials believe will worsen noise, traffic and other problems.

Earlier this month, the Federal Aviation Administration rejected the city’s efforts to get the FAA to suspend an $8.6-million grant for airport expansion. In a separate decision, the FAA then approved the airport’s request to use $24.2 million in passenger fees toward buying 130 acres of land for the terminal project from Lockheed Martin Corp.

Still, several additional questions must be resolved in the courts before the terminal project can move ahead, city and airport officials said.

In March, a federal judge will hear a lawsuit filed by the airport last year claiming that Burbank’s use of an obscure section of the Public Utilities Code to “disapprove” the airport expansion was unconstitutional. The airport has also filed a similar suit in state court raising the same objections.

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The city also plans to challenge the airport’s eminent-domain lawsuit, which it filed last year to acquire the Lockheed property. The cities of Los Angeles and Burbank also have pending lawsuits challenging the FAA’s 1996 approval of an environmental report on the terminal expansion.

Burbank officials early last week offered an olive branch aimed at ending the long-standing feud over the expansion, saying they would accept a slightly larger passenger terminal in return for a mandatory nighttime curfew and a 10% cap on additional flights.

The proposal, dubbed the Burbank Airport 21st Century Plan, would allow a new terminal with 16 gates--two more than the current 14 but well below the 19 to 27 gates in the airport’s plans.

Wiggins said the offer still stands, and he remains hopeful that the Airport Authority and the city can reach a “consensus solution.” If not, he said he is confident the city will defeat the terminal expansion in court.


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