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Judge Postpones Decision on Airport Dispute

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A judge on Friday put off for several weeks a decision on whether city officials have the power to block a proposed expansion project at Burbank Airport.

Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Carl J. West was expected to rule on whether the city has surrendered the power to stop the Burbank-Glendale-Pasadena Airport Authority from acquiring 130-acres of land for a 19-gate terminal building and parking garage.

Instead, the judge told the lawyers he needs more time to address “inconsistencies” in state law that give cities the power to approve land purchases by airports while granting airports the power of eminent domain.

“I’m not convinced either way at this point,” West told the lawyers, who must file a new round of briefs before the judge’s decision, now expected in mid-February. “I see some inconsistencies.”

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A delay in the hearing means the waiting game continues over the fate of an airport, which serves 5 million passengers a year. The airport authority is pushing for a newer, larger terminal building, while city officials have argued the project would increase pollution, traffic and noise.

In October, West handed a victory to the plan’s opponents by ruling federal law did not prevent Burbank from blocking the land purchase to build 19 gates and 1,700 parking spaces. Now, the question is whose position state law supports.

Attorneys for both sides said they were encouraged by the judge’s questions and comments during the two-hour session, but wouldn’t predict the outcome.

“We’ve been trying to build this thing for 18 years and we don’t want to jump to any conclusions right now,” Richard Simon, a lawyer for the airport, said.

Burbank attorney Peter Kirsch said he thinks “the judge found the issue to be more complex than he anticipated and believed that additional briefs would clarify the issue.”

The dispute goes back to a 1973 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that barred Burbank from interfering in airport safety and operations. But when the airport pushed for relocation and expansion in 1996, Burbank turned down its proposal, setting the stage for a series of court confrontations. In the latest battle, the airport authority contends that by signing the joint-powers agreement that established the airport, the city gave it the power to buy commercial property for an expansion.

Burbank has called the notion that it would give up such power to an entity it helped create a “Frankenstein theory.”


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