After nearly two years of closed-door negotiations, Newport Beach Mayor Keith Curry announced Thursday that the strict curfews governing John Wayne Airport’s operations could remain in place through 2035 if a proposed airport settlement agreement extension is approved.
But limits on the number of passengers and flights that can pass through the airport would grow starting in 2021.
“This is a balanced approach that will follow the law and maintain the protection of our community,” Curry said at a press conference in the Newport Beach Police Department auditorium. “Growth, after all, is part of life at the airport.”
The current agreement, which resulted from a 1985 legal settlement aimed at curbing the airport’s impacts on the surrounding community, is set to expire in 2015.
The city had been waiting for feedback from the Federal Aviation Administration before announcing the proposed new terms, which must toe a fine line between allowing JWA room to grow and hanging on to some of the nation’s strictest airport noise and traffic restrictions.
Orange County was able to grandfather in its airport regulations, despite some conflicting with the federal 1990 Airport Noise and Capacity Act, meaning that any new settlement terms cannot impose more stringent limits than already exist.
According to the proposal, the airport’s traffic limits, which currently cap annual passengers at 10.8 million, would stay at that level through 2020.
In 2021, that number would be bumped up to 11.8, effective through 2025.
Then, in 2026, that cap would be subject to another increase, based on whether the airport’s actual traffic hits a “trigger” level of 11.21 million annual passengers in any year from 2021 to 2025.
If traffic does hit that level, the passenger cap would increase to 12.5 million annually between 2026 and 2030. If not, the cap would increase to 12.2 million annual passengers.
And under the proposal, the number of loud, commercial Class A planes allowed to take off on average each day would stay at 89 — 85 passenger and four cargo flights — through 2020. Those numbers would jump to 99 total in 2021: 95 Class A passenger departures and still just four cargo flights.
JWA’s noise-based curfews — which ban commercial departures before 7 a.m. Monday through Saturday, before 8 a.m. Sundays and after 10 p.m. daily and arrivals after 11 p.m. daily, except in emergencies — are regulated by a county law.
The county agreed not to touch that ordinance through at least 2020 in prior negotiations and, if approved, the new deal would extend that commitment for another 15 years.
For the city, negotiating a long-term curfew extension would be a boon.
“The extension of the curfew eliminates a major threat to the quality of life not only for Newport Beach but also for corridor cities impacted by airport operations,” said City Councilwoman Leslie Daigle, who chairs Newport’s Citizens Aviation Committee, and was one of three council members who helped with negotiations.
The new terms are contingent upon whether the proposed agreement slogs its way through the California Environmental Quality Act review process intact.
This week, city officials said they are optimistic about that prospect, and that the City Council will likely do its part in approving a memorandum of understanding between the four parties involved in the original settlement. Those groups are the city of Newport Beach, the County of Orange, the Airport Working Group and Stop Polluting Our Newport.
City Attorney Aaron Harp said the FAA didn’t find any legal “impediments” to moving forward with the proposed settlement.
Added Curry: “Suffice to say, we’re comfortable with their feedback.”
Because the county will take the lead on developing environmental impact reports for multiple alternatives to the proposed agreement, representatives must remain neutral throughout the review process.
Under CEQA, the county Board of Supervisors can approve the MOU, but cannot take a position on it until the other alternatives are considered.
Still, Supervisor John Moorlach reiterated Thursday that, “it’s been a good collaborative effort.”
Local residents’ advocacy groups who oppose the growth of the airport said that they were generally pleased with the proposed agreement — though, as expected, it was definitely a compromise.
“I think it strikes a balance between the needs of our community and aviation,” said SPON President Marko Popovich. “It’s not exactly what we wanted, but like any compromise, we felt it was the best we could get.”
In a statement, AirFair organizers thanked the settlement parties “for their steadfast work to keep the settlement agreement in place, and give us some certainty about what to expect in the future.”
Nevertheless, the statement said, “We all need to continue to work together toward a future where JWA does not degrade the underlying neighborhoods, Ontario [International Airport] picks up its fair share, and the technological remedies for noise and pollution continue to increase.”
But in the meantime, City Manager Dave Kiff said the new agreement will ideally serve as “our generation’s extension” — and that the people who helped negotiate it won’t have to “come back to the table.”