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Airport deal has be come ‘the perfect campaign issue’

Walt Meares

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

of it.

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

Southern California.

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