On Friday, a Superior Court judge approved a transaction that has
Lockheed selling 130 acres of land that is central to battles over
airport expansion. Regardless of whether you love the controversial
Framework for Settlement, or suspect it’s a scheme by corrupt public
officials, I think every Burbank resident has reason to celebrate.
The transaction allowed the Airport Authority to take possession of
approximately 49 acres previously owned by Lockheed. In addition, another
81-acre parcel was transferred from Lockheed to an independent trustee
who will hold it on behalf of the airport and the city.
Easements attached to both properties offer Burbank protections that
were unimaginable only months ago. I think residents should be dancing in
the streets. *
The title to the 49-acre parcel now includes an easement forbidding
any construction, whether for a terminal or a chain-link fence. The
airport agreed to that. The city allowed the transfer, not based upon a
mere promise the land won’t be used for building, but with deed
restrictions guaranteeing it.
The second, larger parcel was paid for by the airport, but was
transferred to the trustee. The trustee can’t give the land to the
airport unless the City Council approves a terminal to be built there --
an approval that can only come after public hearings, and a nonbinding
vote of residents. If a plan isn’t approved by May 24, the trustee sells
the land, giving the proceeds to the airport. (The deadline can be
extended if the airport and the city agree a project is near approval.)
If the sale day comes, Burbank gets the first chance to buy. If the
city passes, the trustee can sell to anyone except the airport. Easements
and use restrictions are on that deed, too. No portion of the 89 acres
can be used for an airport terminal. All future owners are bound by title
restrictions forbidding airport uses, and prohibiting sale of the land to
Years ago the airport moved to buy land for a new terminal, ultimately
using condemnation to accomplish the purchase. Meanwhile, Burbank spent
millions arguing in court that state law lets the city block the land
acquisition unless the city first approves the airport’s plans. Burbank
The city and the airport agreed to a unique process. Burbank would
allow the land transfer with all the easements described above, then
later hold hearings to pass judgment on the terminal plan. But the judge
overseeing the airport’s condemnation process balked.
The judge said the city proved the airport must get approval for its
use of the land BEFORE taking possession, and a transfer before hearings
on a project might weaken Burbank’s hand. But the plan for a new terminal
is months from being ready. Indeed, the airport may never come up with
one that’s acceptable to a council majority. However the judge, Lockheed
and the law also wouldn’t let the condemnation remain on hold any longer.
The transfer had to be done now, or the airport’s efforts to get the land
would be tossed out. Starting over would mean millions have been wasted.
And even if it didn’t pursue the land again, the airport would owe tens
of millions of dollars in damages for having put Lockheed through the
Airport critics ridicule worries about those losses, their derision
implying the squandered cash is grown from magic beans, or perhaps comes
from the checking accounts of arrogant airport commissioners who made bad
choices. But that’s MY money, and yours. Trying to avoid wasting millions
in taxpayer dollars is a worthwhile effort.
In the end, the judge and most parties involved each got their way.
The airport effectively submitted a new “plan. It asked Burbank’s
permission to buy land for an airport project. On Tuesday the council
held the hearing. The project submitted, the plan the council considered,
was an airport request to do nothing. The project included the airport
agreeing to the easements and restrictions described above.
The council’s 4-1 vote gave the airport permission to take title to 49
acres and do nothing. It also approved transferring the other 81 acres to
the trustee for the same “project.’ Yes, it’s understood that in the
spring the airport will ask Burbank to amend the easements. The same law
requiring Burbank’s approval before the airport can buy land also
requires city permission before the airport can change how it uses land
it already owns. The airport will ask permission to change its use from
“doing nothing” to building a terminal.
But as it stands today, the airport purchased land, stipulating to
easements declaring that no one can build airport facilities there. The
airport also agreed to surrender rights it may have to someday file suit
to have the easements overturned.
Today Burbank has even more control over what’s done at the airport
than some rabid anti-airport activists have demanded. Moreover, so much
airport cash has been spent on land and the process that the airport
probably can’t afford alternatives -- like trying to buy other land
unencumbered by easements.
Can the council waste its power by buying into a bad terminal plan?
Yes. But critics who shrieked that the land transaction was a betrayal, a
council give-away, also lead efforts loudly assailing what we know thus
far of the terminal plan. If their assessment of the final version relies
on the same hysterical speculation and unsupported claims they applied to
the property transfer, the habitual allegations of treachery and doom
will be just as unreliable.
Extremists charge easements are frail, easily overcome by a lawsuit
for a less cooperative airport in the future. That smacks of a feeble,
manufactured objection. Anyone can try to sue for anything, so only a
fool would say a lawsuit’s impossible. But given strategies the airport
has surrendered, stipulations and concessions detailed in the escrow and
application just approved by the council, such a lawsuit could stand as
the definition of frivolous.
Before the stringent easements, all that kept the airport from
building a terminal was the law requiring Burbank’s approval. That law
could vanish. Peter Kirsch, Burbank’s lawyer on airport issues, says that
happened to two of his clients. Like Burbank, they sued to argue state
codes gave them veto power over land purchases if they didn’t like an
airport expansion plan. Also like Burbank, they won. Kirsch’s clients
later rejected plans submitted by the airports they were battling. Then
both watched as their respective state legislatures, one in Texas and the
other in Missouri, were convinced to erase laws creating the veto power.
Burbank no longer faces that risk. If California’s law vanishes
tomorrow, titles for the airport’s land still carry easements and
restrictions declaring the airport can’t build. The airport surrendered
the tools to contest them, and the easements remain in perpetuity unless
Burbank agrees to change them.
Folks, that’s good news.