LONG BEACH — After a series of setbacks in federal court, city officials have taken a new tack in their 3 1/2-year effort to limit noise and airline flights at Long Beach Airport.
They have taken their case to Washington and begun to talk compromise with the Federal Aviation Administration, a longtime nemesis which wants to increase daily flights quickly from 18 to at least 40.
City Council members, who defied the FAA in July by endorsing a gradual increase to a 32-flight maximum, are now seeking FAA support in their attempts to maintain local control over the airport and to tie future flight increases to the noise level in nearby residential neighborhoods.
Working on Differences
No agreements were reached in the meeting late last week, but both the city and the FAA said the other seemed more willing to work out differences.
The City Council on Tuesday met in closed session to decide how to proceed.
After the Washington meeting, FAA Administrator Donald D. Engen directed Homer McClure, chief of the agency's regional office in Los Angeles, to conduct follow-up discussions with the city. The FAA is scheduled to present its analysis of the city's new airport noise ordinance in federal court in Los Angeles on Jan. 26, but a delay now seems probable.
"It was certainly nice for us to be able to sit down across a table and discuss this thing amicably. Up to this point they have basically refused to meet," said Edward P. Faberman, FAA deputy chief counsel.
No Justification Found
Faberman, however, said he neither saw nor heard anything at the meeting or in city documents that would justify fewer than 40 airline flights at Long Beach Airport. (A flight is defined as one takeoff and one landing.)
"I still haven't seen any reasonable justification," Faberman said. But, he added, "I think the city has taken some positive steps, and I'd rather continue the dialogue instead of shooting down each other's positions."
The city's overture to the FAA follows U.S. District Court Judge Laughlin E. Waters' September refusal to implement the new airport noise ordinance and his Oct. 17 order to increase flights from 18 to 26 even before trial on the ordinance's legality this year.
Waters also has denied city motions to delay the new flights until his decision can be reviewed on appeal, and he has characterized the city's position on new flights as a "policy of delay." (The judge is now deciding how to allocate the eight new flights among airlines. No date has been set for hearing the city's appeal.)
Waters has said he will place much weight on the FAA's analysis of the new city ordinance.
Tuttle's District Affected
Vice Mayor Edd Tuttle, who led the city delegation to Washington, said Waters' decisions before trial have undercut the new ordinance, which requires that airport noise be brought within state-sanctioned guidelines in residential neighborhoods before more flights can be approved.
"So it seems appropriate now to work with the FAA outside of court," said Tuttle, whose 8th District is most affected by airport noise. "The judge is going to be giving a lot of credence to what the FAA has to say. . . . And I think the city is going to make some specific recommendations that the FAA is going to be able to live with."
Tuttle and Councilmen Ray Grabinski and Evan Anderson Braude met with top FAA officials in the Washington office of Braude's stepfather, Rep. Glenn M. Anderson (D-Harbor City). Anderson and Rep. Daniel E. Lungren (R-Long Beach) also attended the hour-long meeting.
Tuttle and Grabinski said the attendance of the two Long Beach area congressmen, as well as calls of support from aides to Sens. Alan Cranston and Pete Wilson, was significant because it showed a degree of political unity among the city's elected officials.
Difficult Spot for FAA
The congressmen, however, also supported FAA assertions that national transportation needs require more Long Beach flights. The FAA wants to be sure that the new ordinance "does not set a precedent that may be disruptive" to the national system, Faberman said.
"The FAA is in a very difficult position and we understand that," Grabinski said. "But the concerns of local and congressional officials are more than how many flights you can fit into an airport."
Tuttle said he thinks an agreement can be worked out within 45 days that will return full control of the airport to the city, implement the state noise standard for homes near the airport, require pilots to use quieter operating procedures and provide federal money to soundproof homes and schools near flight paths.
Faberman said money is available for soundproofing, but he refused to discuss possible FAA responses to the city's ordinance.
Since the ordinance was first approved six months ago, however, Faberman has criticized it for allowing fewer flights than recommended by a city-appointed task force that studied the issue for two years under the aegis of the FAA.
The task force, appointed after Waters determined that the city's previous noise ordinance lacked sufficient technical foundation, recommended that flights be allowed to increase in three increments from 18 to 41 if airlines can stay within the state-approved noise limits for residential areas.
But the measure adopted by the council allows only 32 airline flights and says they should be allocated quarterly in increments of two and only if airport noise stays low.
The task force said 41 flights could be allowed within the state noise limits by shifting private jets from the airport's main runway to a shorter one alongside the San Diego Freeway. That would allow more flights because noise would increase in industrial areas, not the residential ones protected by noise standards.
But the City Council decided that it did not want to decrease noise on one side of the airport by increasing it on another, prompting protests from the FAA and Judge Waters last month.