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Noise Protesters to Fight Airport's Caltrans Permit

February 07, 1988|T. W. McGARRY | Times Staff Writer

Noise protesters, who have besieged Burbank Airport in the courts and in political arenas from the Los Angeles City Council to Congress, open a new front Monday.

A hearing, scheduled to last two weeks, will get under way at Burbank City Hall on renewal of the airport's variance, a crucial permit from the state Department of Transportation. Without a variance, which allows the airport to operate without fully complying with state noise-control limits, it would have to close.

The hearing will be held before Richard Lopez, a state administrative law judge, who will submit his findings to the chief of the division of aeronautics of Caltrans, Jack Kemmerly.

The protesters appear to have little chance of shutting down the airport.

Almost all the major airports in the state continue operating because they have been granted variances. Of the 26 hearings held since the noise law went into effect in 1972, 25 ended with renewal of the variance, although sometimes with restrictions attached. The 26th case--that of Van Nuys Airport, subject of a weeklong hearing last February--is still under consideration, but the renewal is expected to be granted. The renewals are for three years.

Concerted Effort

Nevertheless, anti-noise activists, backed by the City of Los Angeles and by sympathetic state and federal lawmakers, have been preparing a heavy attack, casting an uneasy eye on the airport's plans to build a terminal twice the size of the existing one.

Their primary demand is for what they call a "fair share" runway use plan.

The proposal would force airline pilots to take off about half the time toward the east. That would reroute climbing planes, which make the most noise, over Burbank, Glendale and Pasadena, which own the airport. Now, almost all commercial flights take off toward the south, for what pilots say are compelling technical reasons, and circle to the west and north over Los Angeles neighborhoods in the East San Fernando Valley.

So far, the protesters have been unsuccessful in several attempts to force adoption of the plan. Airport administrators argue that they have no authority to issue such an order, that the U. S. government gives power over flight decisions only to pilots and air-traffic controllers.

But the campaign to require the airport to at least try to impose such a regulation will continue and grow, Los Angeles City Councilman Joel Wachs, a leader of the effort, promised.

"We are committed to pushing this at every step along the way, in every possible way--at the variance hearing, in federal funding debates, in zoning procedures or in lawsuits brought by the city or individuals," Wachs said.

'Fair Share'

He introduced a City Council measure last month, passed unanimously, instructing the city attorney to intervene in the hearing and demand that the state refuse to renew the variance unless the Burbank-Glendale-Pasadena Airport Authority imposes the "fair share" plan before building its big new terminal. Construction of that terminal is expected in the 1990s.

The city has already submitted to the hearing officer a sheaf of objections "2 inches thick, packed with maps and diagrams," a Caltrans official said.

Airport official Richard M. Vacar has replied to the "fair share" argument that, under federal court rulings, the state has no authority over building plans by the airport authority.

This would be the sixth variance extension granted to the airport. In the absence of objections, Burbank's request for an extension would have been granted automatically, but state Assemblyman Richard Katz (D-Sepulveda) requested the hearing as part of the wide-ranging anti-noise campaign.

The protesters' biggest victory came last year when Rep. Howard L. Berman (D-Panorama City) introduced an amendment to a House appropriations bill to withhold about $40 million in federal construction money for the Burbank Airport terminal unless airport administrators adopted the "fair share" plan.

The amendment was later killed by a House-Senate budget conference committee. But it reflected the growing strength of the airport protesters in the political arena.

City Council Role

Prodded by Wachs and Councilman Ernani Bernardi, whose districts are close to the airport, the Los Angeles City Council has thrust itself into the dispute.

The council supported Berman's House amendment. In a two-day period last month, it filed objections to the environmental impact report for the new airport terminal, setting the stage for a lawsuit, and moved to use its zoning powers over a 54-acre corner of the airport that extends into Los Angeles. Although most of the airport is situated in Burbank, the council voted to require approval by Los Angeles for any development on that tract, a move that Wachs said was meant to give Los Angeles "leverage" over the airport authority. The land is in his district.

The airport authority replied that the action is illegal and will be resisted in court.

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