A bill to limit the number of lawsuits neighbors can file against airports in the state because of noise has sailed through the Assembly and gone to the Senate.
The bill, sponsored by Assemblyman Richard Robinson (D-Garden Grove), in effect would prevent homeowners from suing an airport more than once for noise pollution.
If adopted, the measure would be a blow to neighborhood groups that have protested airport noise in the San Fernando Valley area, Orange County and the San Francisco Bay Area. They are using the courts as leverage in their battles against local airports.
Robinson's bill, which passed the Assembly on a 51-16 vote last week, would redefine flight noise as a "permanent nuisance," stopping property owners from suing repeatedly unless there is a substantial increase in noise.
Anti-noise groups in the San Fernando Valley vowed last week to lobby to defeat the bill in the Senate. Richard Close, president of Sherman Oaks Homeowners Assn., said that, without the continuing threat of lawsuits, the Burbank-Glendale-Pasadena Airport Authority will not think twice about increasing flights.
"We are obviously opposed to it because it takes away legal rights the California Supreme Court said we had last year," Close said.
Reviewing a case originating in Burbank, the state Supreme Court in September upheld the right of homeowners to sue airports over noise and resulting damage to property values. 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 have reduced their property values.
Assemblyman Gil Ferguson (R-Newport Beach), an opponent of the bill, predicted that the legislation would be challenged in court if it becomes law.
The attempt to restrict suits aimed at airports is nothing new. Gov. George Deukmejian has vetoed two similar bills. In 1985, he said he vetoed one of them because the Burbank case was before the Supreme Court. He has not announced a position on the current bill.
Victor Gill, Burbank Airport's director of community relations, said the airport authority supports the bill and hopes that the governor will reconsider his position this year.
Assemblymen Gray Davis (D-Los Angeles), Richard Katz (D-Sepulveda) and Burt Margolin (D-Los Angeles), who represents Burbank, voted against the bill. Assemblywoman Marian W. La Follette (R-Northridge) and Assemblyman Pat Nolan (R-Glendale) voted for the bill.