Politicians and poll takers lament the low voter turnout in American
elections. The reason for voter apathy is the “politician’s perfect
campaign issue.” What is a “perfect campaign issue?” It has these
irresistible attributes for the campaigning candidate. It is:
1) A very high profile issue for which an editor will always make
space in print or in a broadcast.
2) A contentious topic that generates a lot of pro and con argument by
people who understand neither the legislative process nor the science
3) Advanced by people with near evangelical fervor on the subject.
4) Finally, an issue over which the office sought by the candidate has
little (an OK campaign situation) or no (the best campaign situation)
power to influence or solve.
We have one, and probably two or three, such issues on the table in
the Burbank-Glendale-Pasadena Airport imbroglio. By accident or design
our negotiators left the “look to the east and strike in the west”
misdirection strategy in the Framework Agreement. It’s called the ban on
easterly takeoffs, and the people in Studio City, Sherman Oaks and North
Hollywood hate and oppose this part of the Framework Agreement.
With congressional, mayoral and council elections in Los Angeles in
the next year and a half, there are plenty of candidates hungry for
issues they can be tough on. And have they latched onto this one! It
seems every candidate for office in Los Angeles decries the ban on
easterly takeoffs and threatens legal or legislative action, complains to
the Federal Aviation Administration and otherwise makes belligerent
commentary to Burbank’s City Council and the Airport Authority.
James Hahn, the Los Angeles City Attorney and aspiring Los Angeles
mayoral candidate, leads the pack by threatening a lawsuit to require yet
another Environmental Impact Report on the new terminal.
The thing all these candidates have in common is the ability to shout
loudly to their constituents about Burbank and the airport. They promise
to clean up the mess. But they also have this common ground: When all
their efforts fail, they can point to the FAA, Burbank, or “the system”
as the cause of it all, because they aren’t in direct control of any part
The final authority on takeoff direction for safety purposes will be
the pilot under flight rules established by the FAA, including avoidance
of air traffic routes of flights into other area airports. This provision
of the Framework Agreement will probably be overturned by the FAA or the
courts, and it really is the only safety-of-flight issue involved.
By way of demonstrating the truth of the perfect issue theory, just
consider the indignation unexpressed by Mr. Hahn and other candidates
with regard to the Van Nuys airport noise situation. Nobody around that
airport is happy with the noise plan presented. But it’s under the
jurisdiction of the Los Angeles Department of Airports and the local
candidates might be held accountable for their promises. That’s why you
won’t see any belligerent pronouncements about the Van Nuys Airport noise
by Los Angeles-based candidates.
Nor will you hear these virtuous fellows talk about another critical
noise and traffic congestion problem: their very own pride and joy, LAX.,
where the city of El Segundo has filed suit to stop LAX’s alleged
“under-the-table” moves to achieve expansion project goals by
circumventing a court order to do a new EIR for the whole plan.
What about it, Mr. Hahn? Mr. Berman? You guys might do better to join
the rest of us to force noise footprint reductions through a regional
transportation plan that makes logical and economic sense for all of
Airport issues critical to Burbank are: unequivocal recognition of our
zoning authority, a permanent curfew on night operations and a plan to
reduce the noise footprint. Through court action and suits, we have
obtained firm legal recognition of our zoning authority. However, both
curfew and noise are actually controlled by FAA regulations and studies.
Let’s not fool ourselves about the options here. The key items for
Burbank are curfews and binding commitments to reduce future noise
growth. They are all subject, under current law, to FAA jurisdiction. In
the past, the FAA seems to have sided with industry and commerce on such
issues. So Burbank has the following options:
1) Sit pat and require a curfew to be in place before any further
action is taken on the airport’s new proposal.
2) Go ahead under the Framework for Settlement and see whether we’re
greeted by the lady or the tiger when we open the door.
3) Go ahead under the Framework for Settlement, but first demand that
all local Congressmen form a coalition to remove local noise control from
FAA jurisdiction by sponsoring legislation to permit cities to impose
nighttime curfews on flight operations other than emergencies. This is
really no different than imposing downtown parking and traffic
restriction as a function of the time of day.
A curfew on night flying operations (except emergencies) is not a
safety issue. For citizens, it is a quality-of-life issue. For industry,
it is a convenience issue.
WALT MEARES is a Burbank resident and retired aerospace engineer and
scientist. Reach him at email@example.com