EL SEGUNDO — City officials say they are prepared for "a fight to the finish" to overturn part of an airport noise control program they say discriminates against El Segundo residents.
The $1.7-million program would provide soundproofing for selected homes around Los Angeles International Airport, redevelop land in Inglewood rendered uninhabitable by jet noise, and possibly erect a sound barrier along the airport's south border, adjacent to El Segundo.
The program, however, also continues an airport policy that routes about 40% of takeoffs and landings to the airport's north runways--near Westchester and Inglewood--and 60% to the south runways adjacent to El Segundo.
That policy is the city's main objection to the program, City Atty. Leland Dolley said.
"We're not looking for any favors," he said. "We just want what's equitable--a 50-50 split."
Seeking a study of the environmental impact of the 60-40 policy, El Segundo has sued the airport and its owner, the city of Los Angeles, in U.S. District Court. U.S. District Judge David W. Williams last Friday denied the city's request for an order barring the Federal Aviation Administration from approving the federally funded program until the suit is decided. The FAA approved the program the next day.
"That was just an initial skirmish," Dolley said. "We're still out to win the war. I don't think LAX realizes we're quite serious about this. We're prepared to invest as much as it takes."
While the 60-40 policy has been in effect for about 10 years, he said, the airport officially has a 50-50 policy. The noise control program, he contended, "would help set 60-40 in federal concrete, and that's what we want to avoid."
The city has filed a second lawsuit charging that the noise control program violates the state Environmental Quality Act because it fails to assess the environmental impact of the 60-40 policy. That case will be heard May 22 in Los Angeles Superior Court.
Meanwhile, Dolley said, a tentative date of June 17 has been set in the federal court for a hearing on El Segundo's request for a preliminary injunction that would hold up the FAA's approval of the noise program pending the preparation of an environmental impact report.
Such a report, he said, would demonstrate "in black and white the detrimental and discriminatory effects of this policy on El Segundo residents."
Airport representatives, however, contend that El Segundo is mistaken about the Board of Airport Commissioners' runway use policy. If anything, they say, the situation for the city has improved over the last decade.
"We've never had a 50-50 policy," said Jerome Montgomery, a Los Angeles assistant city attorney representing the airport. "Back in 1975, the split used to be 80-20, with 80% of the flights going on the south runways. At that time the board passed a resolution aimed at 'balanced use of runways.' Balanced use was never defined numerically, and at most it was reserved as a future option. It was never promised."
Montgomery said that in the past, runway use was lighter on the north because north runways could accommodate the newer, heavier jets, and larger numbers of smaller aircraft were shunted to south runways, he said.
Those runways have since been upgraded to handle all aircraft, he said. But another, equally important factor remains--the more densely residential character of the northern airport communities.
"It's been a question of the greater need," he said. "To the south we've had these huge industrial expanses that we felt could handle more noise."
Montgomery said that he sympathized with El Segundo's plight, but "the airport has to look at the larger picture. We have to juggle the needs of several communities as well as our own needs and weigh all that against what we can safely carry out."
Dolley, however, said the city is standing firm.
"This is an inherently unjust situation," he said, "and we want it rectified.