The Relentless Margie Gee : Airport Gadfly Now in Dual Role

April 03, 1986|GREG BRAXTON | Times Staff Writer

Margie Gee has been relentlessly battling Burbank Airport for 18 years, but that doesn't keep her from catching a plane there.

"I think I've paid my dues, and I'm more justified in using that airport than anyone else if it's convenient for me," said Gee, the only anti-noise activist ever appointed to the Burbank Airport authority. "Anything that airport can do for me, I have more than earned."

But Gee, 50, who has lived about a mile from the airport since 1960, still regards Burbank Airport more as a foe to be controlled than a convenient place to catch a plane, even though she now sits on the airport's governing body, the Burbank-Glendale-Pasadena Airport Authority.

Her dual role as opponent and insider puts her at the center of some airport conflicts.

One such argument was renewed Monday when her colleagues on the authority concluded that she could speak for herself as an individual--but not for the authority--at a Federal Aviation Administration hearing this week dealing partly with the capacities of airports to accommodate airlines.

Instead, the commissioners adopted an official statement drafted by the airport staff and the authority's president, Robert W. Garcin, to be read by Garcin at the FAA hearing.

Commission's Stand

The statement opposes several points in a proposed FAA policy that would establish a nationwide standard for noise-control measures at airports, criticizing the FAA for suggesting that better land-use planning is the preferred solution to noise problems.

"The Burbank noise problem developed long after property around the airport had been put in use," Garcin said.

Gee cast the only dissenting vote, unsuccessfully seeking support for a broader critique of the FAA. Her statement, handed out to other commissioners, chastised the FAA for failing to exert greater pressure on airlines to phase out older, noisier aircraft in favor of quieter, new planes.

True to form, she said she would read her rejected statement at the FAA hearing even if she must do it as a private citizen.

It is not part of Gee's style to give in.

Her passion and unwillingness to compromise appear sometimes to exasperate not only her opponents, but some of her supporters as well.

Meetings of the authority are often lengthened by a stream of questions from Gee to other commissioners and the airport executive staff, or Gee's insistence on making a point, repeatedly returning to the same subject in the face of the obvious annoyance of the other commissioners.

'Like a Chess Game'

Garcin, an attorney who has served on the panel since 1978, appears irritated by her, Gee conceded.

"It's like a chess game," Gee said. Garcin prevents her from being effective, she said, "and it becomes challenging to me to show that he still has to deal with me."

Garcin could not be reached for comment.

Another source of tension on the commission is Gee's role as a plaintiff in a $20-million anti-noise lawsuit against the authority, putting her in the position of suing an organization of which she is an executive.

The authority's attorneys have counseled that she should not vote on motions that could be considered as having any bearing on the lawsuit and related issues, because of conflict-of-interest laws. Because so many aspects of airport operations have noise ramifications, she does not vote on some of the authority's most important business.

The Burbank City Council has asked the state Fair Political Practices Commission for an opinion.

Howard's Frustrations

Burbank Mayor Mary Lou Howard, who also serves on the nine-member commission and is usually the only supporting vote Gee can count on, said she knew Gee only informally before Gee's appointment to the authority. She said she values Gee's expertise on the commission, but she is also frustrated because she feels Gee should choose between the authority and the lawsuit.

Gee has resisted requests that she either withdraw from the lawsuit or resign from the authority.

Gee, a housewife and mother of five children, got involved in airport affairs after she became aware of commercial jets being routed over her house in 1968.

"That summer, I was in my backyard, and this monster came over my head," she said. "It shook the house. It was low, and my husband and I covered our ears. There was a nice, quiet residential neighborhood one minute, and the next minute, it was gone."

She recalled one incident several years ago when she tried to warn a pool maintenance man who was parked in a driveway next door about her 3-year-old son, who was riding his tricycle on the block.

'He Couldn't Hear Me'

"When he started to pull out, I yelled at him from the window to watch out, but a plane passed overhead and he couldn't hear me," she said.

"He just kept going. Luckily my child saw the truck and let the truck go screeching out of the driveway. It was a tremendous stroke of good fortune, but it could have easily been an ending where he could have been smashed and killed, all because of a plane."

Gee lobbied local officials and complained to then-Gov. Ronald Reagan, who appointed her to a noise-abatement council. She served as president of the Burbank Anti-Noise Group for 10 years before being appointed to the airport authority by the Burbank City Council last year.

Since then, Gee has still managed to perform volunteer duties for the American Cancer Society, remain active in Mormon activities and devote time to her family.

She was criticized recently when she failed to attend a Burbank City Council meeting on the conflict-of-interest question because she was celebrating her daughter's birthday.

"It's preposterous to suggest that, because I am a wife and mother, there is a conflict with my airport activity," Gee said, still bristling at the criticism.

"No activist is worth their salt if, in pursuing their goal, they dump their family aside."

Times Staff Writer Doug Smith also contributed to this story.

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