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Congress Urged to Use Clout to Lessen Burbank Jet Noise

April 30, 1987|T. W. McGARRY and DOUG SMITH | Times Staff Writers

U.S. Rep. Howard L. Berman (D-Studio City) proposed Tuesday that Congress use the clout of the federal budget to force Burbank Airport to take measures demanded by anti-noise protesters, including a limit on the number of jetliner flights.

Berman urged congressional budget writers to impose conditions on the Burbank-Glendale-Pasadena Airport Authority in return for any federal grants for construction of a proposed new Burbank Airport terminal.

In a related matter, a Los Angeles City Council committee Friday demanded more study of the possible financial liability from noise lawsuits before considering whether the city should try to join the Burbank-Glendale-Pasadena Airport Authority.

Issue Revived in January

Although Los Angeles has twice declined membership on the independent authority, which operates Burbank Airport, Councilman Joel Wachs revived the question in January.

Wachs asked the city attorney to determine whether joining the authority could give the city more influence in decisions affecting noise in Los Angeles neighborhoods caused by jetliners taking off from Burbank Airport.

Testifying to the transportation subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee, Berman urged that any construction grants require "an upper limit on the number of flights departing from the airport," and also force the airport authority to mandate a substantial number of jetliner takeoffs to the east, over the three cities that own the airport.

There is not likely to be any committee action soon on Berman's request, however, because the airport authority has no requests pending for federal aid to build the terminal, according to airport spokesman Victor Gill. But the authority expects to receive substantial federal help eventually for the project, which will cost more than $100 million, Gill said.

Berman said the nine members of the authority, appointed by the governments of the three cities, are politically motivated to resist measures that would lessen air traffic over Los Angeles neighborhoods at the price of routing more jetliners over their own cities.

"The members of that authority have a fundamental, inherent, but purely political reason for keeping flights from landing and taking off over their jurisdiction," Berman said.

Gill, informed of Berman's remarks, responded, "That's a bunch of baloney."

"The airport authority has no active agenda to steer flights one way or another," the airport spokesman said. "The reasons flights go the way they do have been well discussed--pilot preference, FAA traffic control procedures, those things pure and simple."

'Share the Noise' Pushed

Anti-noise protesters have pressured the authority for years to limit the number of flights from the airport. With backing from Wachs, they are pushing a "share the noise" campaign, calling for more flights to take off toward the east instead of over the Los Angeles neighborhoods of Studio City, North Hollywood and Van Nuys.

The chairman of the authority has repeatedly protested that, under federal court rulings, the authority has no power to enforce such rules, which would infringe on the authority of the Federal Aviation Administration.

Although noise protesters have made "share the noise" plans a priority, the subject is moot for the time being. Currently, the FAA has forbidden eastbound takeoffs by jetliners because the present terminal is too close to the east-west runway. The ban is expected to remain in force until the new terminal goes into service in the 1990s.

As for the possibility of Los Angeles joining the airport authority, in a report delivered to the Industry and Economic Development Committee on Friday, Deputy City Atty. William L. Waterhouse concluded that voting membership would give the city "greater voice" on the authority. But he cautioned that "whether that greater voice would lead to greater protection against noise is difficult to predict."

The report also was inconclusive on the related question of whether the city, if it joined the authority, could be held responsible for debts or losses that the authority could not pay.

Authority members have worried openly about the possibility of crushing financial burdens from noise lawsuit awards.

The Airport Authority suffered a crucial setback in 1985 when the California Supreme Court ruled that jetliner noise is a continuing nuisance, a ruling that allows homeowners to file repeated lawsuits for repeated incidents.

In the authority's 1986 annual report, its legal counsel said he could not estimate the amount of damages the authority might eventually have to pay.

At Friday's committee meeting, Chairwoman Joan Milke Flores ordered the city attorney to conduct an eight-week study in cooperation with the Department of Airports and Wachs' office.

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