Representatives of San Fernando Valley homeowners groups, jubilant over a state Supreme Court decision upholding their right to sue airports over jet noise and damage to property values, threatened Tuesday to use the ruling to get the Burbank Airport to reduce noise and flights.
"This ruling will finally force the airport to either become a good neighbor or pay the economic consequences," said Richard Close, president of the Sherman Oaks Homeowners Assn. "Unless the airport reduces the level of noise which now exists, the number of lawsuits will increase."
Close said that, although he and other residents battling airport noise are "more interested in reducing noise than in making money," they may sue if they are not happy with the efforts of the Burbank-Glendale-Pasadena Airport Authority to reduce noise.
"The airport has a choice," he said.
Monday's state Supreme Court ruling, stemming from a case involving Burbank Airport, could have consequences for all major California airports, authorities said.
$14 Million Sought
In the Burbank case, 138 people are seeking nearly $14 million from the airport authority on the grounds that noise, exhaust and vibrations from jet landings and takeoffs are a continuing nuisance and have lowered the value of their homes. The high-court decision, which overturned a trial court judge's ruling throwing out the suit, will allow residents around other airports to sue--repeatedly if necessary--accusing the airports of creating nuisances.
Although Close and other area residents celebrated the ruling, reaction among airport officials and members of the nine-member airport authority was subdued.
"The decision was not unexpected, but we're still disappointed with the way it went," airport manager Thomas Greer said. "However, this does not bring an end to the world. It's just something we will have to deal with on an individual basis."
Lee Blackman, attorney for the authority, said he was disturbed by the homeowner groups' threat to use the threat of lawsuits as a bargaining tool against the airport.
"The threat of litigation is not necessary in order for the authority to try and reduce noise at the airport to a reasonable level," Blackman said. "The airport has already achieved substantial improvements in that area. In any lawsuit brought against the airport, we are prepared to represent the authority, and it's our opinion that the authority will ultimately prevail."
Carl Mesick, a Glendale representative on the authority, said homeowners have ignored the attempts of the airport commission to reduce noise. He said the area most affected by airport noise has decreased from 330 acres to about 109 acres, and that airlines are required to use mostly federally certified "Stage 3" aircraft, the quietest jets available.
Goal 'Is the Same'
"Our goal is the same as the homeowners," Mesick said. "But they don't interpet it that way. They're real slow to recognize that."
But Dan Shapiro, president of the Studio City Residents Assn., said the authority has not made significant attempts to reduce noise, and has been rude to anti-noise advocates.
He called the authority's approval of an application by Trans World Airlines to begin flights to St. Louis in November an example of its insensitivity to homeowners.
"Now we're saying they have to come to grips. They can't do things like this anymore," Shapiro said.
Quipped Commissioner Carroll Parcher, "I think this ruling will mean lifetime jobs for a lot of lawyers."