A common criticism of the “Framework for Settlement,” the negotiated
proposal to let the airport build a new terminal with certain conditions,
is that future councils can change the conditions. The council’s
unsatisfying response is that one council can’t bind the hands of future
councils. Any rule a council creates today can be overturned whenever a
future council’s majority wishes.
That makes people nervous, and rightfully so. For example, the
framework proposes allowing a 14-gate terminal. If the airport wants to
add two more gates, it first has to win federal approval for a mandatory
curfew barring all night flights. But years from now, another council
could drop the demand for a curfew.
I have an idea. There is a way to bind future councils. An example is
seen in a ballot initiative promoted by a group vehemently opposed to the
framework. I believe the initiative is poorly written, misstates facts,
makes demands that are unconstitutional and could never be enforced, and
in other ways far exceeds the bounds of common sense and the law. But the
initiative also declares no council can change the rules it proposes
unless changes are approved by a vote of the people.
That IS a way to bind future councils. If the council comes to a
development agreement for a new terminal that it can support, officials
should assure that no council ever dilutes its restrictions without voter
approval. Last week I checked with City Atty. Dennis Barlow. He confirmed
the council is empowered to put its own measure on the ballot, and can
draft a measure prohibiting changes in a terminal agreement unless voters
first approve the changes. If voters approved the measure, the hands of
future councils would be tied.
So, will the council members consider doing this? Ask them.
The facet of the framework attracting the most heat is the proposal
for a ban on flights departing to the east. While I find the idea absurd
and arguments for it specious, I could not care less about it. I doubt
the federal government will approve the ban. No other facet of the
terminal plan is contingent on an approval. Rejecting the ban won’t kill
the plan, add gates or change other rules, so I ignore the quarrels.
But I’ve been astonished at the slashing rhetoric of politicians
representing Los Angelenos, the folks with good cause to hate the ban
idea. In attacking the odious proposal, pols have called for Burbank to
abolish virtually the entire framework, a document jam-packed with
benefits for L.A. constituents, too. It’s counterproductive and
destructive. From councilmen to congressmen, each seems afraid they’ll
lose votes if anyone can accuse them of using anything less than
It’s also obvious the pols want to jump in at the end of the process,
enjoying the fruits of Burbank’s years of effort and millions in cash.
They want us to use the power won, without help from Los Angeles, to
benefit Los Angeles. That alone isn’t a problem. Burbank has urged
Glendale and Pasadena officials to act on a moral duty to consider their
Burbank neighbors. Burbank has the same obligations.
But L.A. obviously wants Burbank to lever the airport into a “share
the noise” plan. To over simplify, L.A. wants to see one plane leave to
the south, then the next to the east, and the next to the north, and so
Never mind L.A. has lost every lawsuit it filed trying to accomplish
that, and several joint efforts over a period of decades have ended with
declarations such a plan would be irresponsible and illegal.
I’m amazed that, to combat the grossly unfair proposal for a ban on
eastern departures, and to promote a shared noise plan as likely to
succeed as I am likely to be elected to Congress, L.A. politicians are
smearing everything in the framework. From limits on noise, to
restrictions on how the airport can use space in a new terminal, L.A.
pols are willing to toss it all -- in the process hurting their own
constituents and Burbank.
Last week, the city released a video and brochure “explaining” the
framework. Contrary to charges leveled by familiar critics, the materials
are not illegal campaign literature. There were also accusations that,
since the expense couldn’t have been undertaken without council approval,
and since no such discussion appeared on a meeting agenda, council
discussion to approve the materials was obviously held in an illegal
That attack collapses at the premise. No council vote was required to
spend money on the material, and no meeting was held to approve it. I’m
sure the accusers will hastily offer apologies for their ugly accusations
of illegal acts.
But advance drafts of the materials were given to council members, as
confidential documents “related to litigation.” That does stink. I’ve
been around long enough to know the argument can be made. But the current
council has pledged to avoid such dodges. Just because a matter can be
rendered secret doesn’t mean it must be, and the literature shouldn’t
Moreover, the framework is the product of two council members
negotiating with airport officials. City Hall putting out the materials
without even a public discussion creates an appearance all five council
members are firmly devoted to a plan that hasn’t yet been publicly
deliberated. I don’t think that appearance reflects reality. But I
believe the council must begin paying closer attention to such
appearances, and start showing a lot more respect for people who are
concerned about them.
Speaking of respect, the council held a hearing last week, approving
the airport’s request to buy land. But most public speakers addressed the
airport’s terminal plans, and that had some council members sighing,
eye-rolling and whispering. It was clear they were frustrated by the
public being so tedious as to talk about one airport issue, when a
different airport issue was on the agenda.
Council members politely absorb many personal attacks I probably
couldn’t take without leaping the desk and taking a poke at someone. But
when some get so obviously huffy, or look down their noses and lecture
that citizens addressed the “wrong” issue, they alienate people --
especially newcomers lured in by airport issues, and already nervous
about scandalous charges of council arrogance and abuse.
I’ll bet officials would win applause for occasionally turning a hose
on the defamatory boobs we all know, but the same officials have to be
less condescending and patronizing toward others motivated only by
concern and interest.