The state Department of Transportation has agreed to hold a public hearing on whether it should renew a permit that allows Burbank Airport to operate without meeting state noise limits, according to a letter released Monday.
Caltrans Director Leo J. Trombatore said his department had agreed to hold the hearing at the request of Assemblyman Richard Katz (D-Sepulveda). No date has been set.
At stake is a recommendation by an administrative law judge to the head of Caltrans on whether to renew the airport's noise "variance," a Caltrans permit allowing the airport to operate without meeting state noise-control standards.
Without the permit, Burbank Airport would have to close.
However, in the 25 such renewal trials held since the state airport noise law went into effect in 1975, the variance has been granted in all cases, although sometimes judges have required administrators to bring the airports closer to meeting the standards, according to a Caltrans official.
Most Need Variances
Most of the state's major airports need variances to continue operating under the noise limits, including Los Angeles International, San Francisco International, San Jose International and Ontario International airports and Lindbergh Field in San Diego.
A variance renewal hearing was held for Van Nuys Airport earlier this year, at which noise protesters testified in favor of holding the airport to stricter limits. The judge in that case has not announced a decision.
The Burbank Airport dispute concerns noise created by jetliner takeoffs. Nearly all jetliners take off toward the south and bank westward and northward over Los Angeles neighborhoods in Studio City, North Hollywood, Sherman Oaks and Van Nuys.
Protesters in these noise-impacted communities have suggested that the airport institute a "share-the-noise" plan that calls for 50% of the jetliners to take off eastward over the cities that own the airport--Burbank, Glendale and Pasadena.
The airport's governing board argues that it does not have the authority to adopt such a plan because air-traffic control decisions are the province of pilots and the Federal Aviation Administration.
The state variance hearing adds to the federal and local steps being taken at the insistence of noise protesters in their struggle with the airport's board of governors.
Legislation is pending in Congress that calls for withholding $40 million in federal grants for construction of a new terminal until the Burbank Airport authority adopts the share-the-noise plan. Also, the Los Angeles city attorney's office is investigating whether the city should take action against the airport authority to force it to adopt the alternate takeoff plan.
Burbank Airport exceeds state noise standards in 400 acres surrounding the airport, according to airport spokesman Victor Gill. The airport has tried to comply with state standards by requiring airlines to use jetliners with quieter engines.
Average of Decibel Readings
State noise standards are established by using daily averages of decibel readings recorded by monitoring stations near airports.
The laws set a maximum average for residential areas and schools. Industrial, commercial and agricultural areas, as well as the airport itself, are exempt.
Burbank Airport has operated without a noise variance for more than a year as part of a gentlemen's agreement between the airport authority and members of two committees carrying out an FAA-sponsored study of airport noise, Gill said. The committees include representatives of local politicians and residents of noise-impacted communities.
Because the variance hearing is an adversary proceeding similar to a civil court trial, Gill said, airport officials and noise protesters agreed to delay the hearing until the committees complete their reports in order to maintain a cooperative spirit in the FAA study.
"I don't understand why Assemblyman Katz has called for the hearing," Gill said Monday. "He's just rocking the boat a little."
Katz said his request was in response to constituents' complaints of inaction by Caltrans on their calls for a hearing. He said he was surprised by a statement from Trombatore that no one had asked for a hearing. Caltrans is obligated to hold a hearing on request.
In his letter to Katz, Trombatore said the fact that no one had asked for a hearing was in line with the understanding "to defer any action on the variance application" until the studies were concluded.
"Things have changed since the initial variance was granted," Katz said Monday.
"Noise levels have changed. The number of flights has changed and concerns over safety have changed. The important thing is that there will be a public hearing held and people will have an opportunity to voice their concerns."