Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times | Terms of Service | Privacy Policy
Advertisement
Share
News

Will Rogers On Friday, a Superior Court...

Will Rogers

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

Advertisement

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

Advertisement

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

Advertisement

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

Advertisement

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

the airport.

*

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

won.

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

process.

*

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.


Advertisement