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One Field a Pain, One a City's Pride

December 21, 1986|GEORGE STEIN | Times Staff Writer

The two airports of the South Bay play important but very different roles in their cities: What is a noisy nuisance to many in Torrance is a focus of civic pride in Hawthorne.

In Torrance, unhappiness over noise from planes buzzing over surrounding neighborhoods has spawned an entire political movement that claims credit for helping to elect a majority of council members sensitive to thousands of nearby residents.

The city is currently defying the FAA, which wants the airport to lift its ban on jet fuel sales--a restriction aimed at discouraging jets from using the facility. The FAA has withheld hundreds of thousands of dollars in federal airport improvement grants because of the action.

In Hawthorne, the airport is home to an aviation museum and an annual Air Fair draws thousands of fans. It has no problems with the FAA and this year is receiving $800,000 for improvement projects--58% of its budget.

Airport Use Declines

Both airports have suffered similar and substantial declines in airport usage as the cost of private aviation has soared during the last decade. And both airports face a pending FAA proposal that could cut into flight instruction schools if adopted.

Both airports are there to stay. Deed restrictions imposed when they were turned over to the cities by the federal government require that they remain as airports.

In Torrance, noise from the airport is getting quieter, according to the city officials who measure such things, but noise from neighbors about it is not.

The decline in private aviation is part of the reason there is less noise.

The number of takeoffs and landings at the Torrance Airport declined 40% in the last 10 years--from 417,785 in the 12-month period that ended Sept. 30, 1977, to 247,436 for the same period in 1986.

Violations Dropped 15%

A more recent noisiness index--violations of the city's noise ordinance--also showed declining levels of noise. The number of violations dropped 15%, comparing the first 10 months of 1985 with the same period in 1986.

In the 12-month period ending in October, less than 1%--0.68%, to be precise--of the takeoffs or landings have violated the city noise standard.

In addition, the anti-noise forces have been winning in court and in City Council chambers:

- A suit brought by attorney and pilot Clark Garen in 1985, seeking condemnation of homes of people complaining about airport noise, ended in a rout for Garen, who is facing a $250,000 fine for bringing a "fraudulent" suit. Garen had argued that deed restrictions imposed in 1948 when the city took control of the land from the federal government required the city to keep the surrounding land from being developed in a manner that harmed aviation interests.

- The city recently prevailed in court in a case brought by a business that wanted to sell jet fuel at the airport.

- Last month, the City Council passed a regulation barring 41 types of aircraft as too noisy.

The pilot community is bitter.

"Here we are at less than half the operations of 10 years ago and stringent noise limits that we all obey 99% of the time and the local residents cry more than ever," said Barry Jay of Peninsula Aviation, the firm that lost the court battle for permission to sell jet fuel at the airport.

"People in the local homeowners groups have found a flag to rally around. I don't know why some people thrive on something to bitch about, but they do."

Indeed, Torrance neighborhood activist Mike Bedinger and his supporters remain unsatisfied.

Bedinger, a resident of the Southwood Riviera section, is a member of the city's Airport Commission and chairman of the influential Council of Homeowners Assns. of Torrance.

He is vocal about the noise of planes flying in and out of the Torrance Municipal Airport.

'Can Get Excruciating'

"The rabbits hide. It bothers the dog. In the wintertime, with the windows closed, it puts a crimp in watching television. It really does penetrate. It can get excruciating."

He is critical of the city's enforcement of its 1977 noise ordinance, which limits aircraft sounds to 82 decibels--equivalent to the sound of a vacuum cleaner in a closed room.

"No one has ever been punished by that ordinance in any way," he said.

(City officials give two warnings before citing a pilot who violates the ordinance, and no citations have been necessary, they said.)

When the ordinance was passed, a consultant recommended that the city lower its upper limit on noise one decibel a year for five years. "That has never gone to the airport commission as an official item," Bedinger said.

Other Complaints Voiced

"Recently," said Bedinger, "we have been having people from other areas of Torrance complaining more violently about noise."

Torrance Mayor Katy Geissert, the first council member to take on the airport, agreed that residents from other areas have been complaining and said the city is investigating.

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