A state administrative law judge has rejected an attempt by the city of Los Angeles to impose stricter noise controls on Burbank Airport, ruling that Los Angeles helped create its own jet noise problems by allowing people to live too close to the facility.
In a sternly worded opinion--made public Monday at the regular meeting of the Burbank-Glendale-Pasadena Airport Authority--Judge Richard J. Lopez deplored the absence of "rational planning and zoning" in the neighborhoods near the airport that are "under the control (or lack thereof) of the city of Los Angeles."
The rebuke was delivered in a decision recommending that the state Department of Transportation renew the airport's crucial permit to continue operating without fully meeting the standards of state noise-control laws. Caltrans has accepted the decision and renewed the airport's permit--called a "variance"--for 3 years, effective Tuesday.
Third Major Victory
It was the third major victory for Burbank Airport over noise protesters in 3 months. It follows an important court ruling in the airport's favor and success in a federally sponsored noise study.
The series of victories appears to clear the way for the airport to proceed with construction of a terminal during the 1990s that would be capable of handling more than 7 million passengers a year by 2000, more than double the current traffic.
The airport--owned by Burbank, Glendale and Pasadena--is mostly in western Burbank. But the northern end of one runway extends into Los Angeles, and most air traffic lands and takes off over Los Angeles neighborhoods in the western San Fernando Valley.
Noise protesters, based in the valley, have enlisted city, state and federal elected officials from the Los Angeles area in a running battle with the airport in recent years, aimed at restricting its operations.
Open Under Variances
After the earlier airport victories, the protesters' best remaining hope lay in blocking the airport's variance or in imposing many conditions on it.
Because administrators say they cannot meet the strict noise limits mandated by a 1972 state law, virtually all major airports in the state remain open only under variances, including city-owned Los Angeles International Airport.
Caltrans is authorized to issue a variance if an airport makes a good-faith effort to control noise and if the airport's benefits outweigh noise emanating from it.
Protesters can ask for hearings on variances, which are conducted like trials. All 27 variance hearings held since the law went into effect ended with renewal of the variance, usually with conditions attached.
When a hearing was held in February on the Burbank variance, at the request of neighborhood noise protest groups, the city of Los Angeles asked to intervene. The city requested that the judge require the airport to study the feasibility of "sound barrier" walls to muffle takeoff noise and a "purchase assurance plan" to guard home sellers in the west valley from losing money because of aircraft noise.
The judge called the city's requests "unreasonable" because Los Angeles had "failed to take appropriate action (including rational planning and zoning) within its jurisdiction to achieve 'compatible' land uses . . .," such as restricting noisy areas to industrial or commercial use.
He held that "much, if not all, of the impacted area is the result of urban sprawl under the control (or lack thereof) of the city of Los Angeles," and that without "a commitment by the city to fully cooperate with" the airport, the request was "premature."
The decision to renew the variance noted that the airport provides economic and travel benefits to a large number of people, including many who live in Los Angeles. It took into account the airport's efforts to reduce noise, including its status as the first airport in the nation to banish all jetliners except those rated by the Federal Aviation Administration as "stage three"--the least noisy class of planes available.
The decision requires the airport to study the feasibility of installing sound-deadening insulation in some homes and nearby schools, and to press for federal financial assistance to pay for the insulation program. The airport was already committed to do so, under the terms of a federally sponsored noise-control study, but Lopez required that the airport report to the state in a year how much money it is willing to spend on the insulation program.
The schools are Glenwood and Mingay elementary schools, Luther Burbank Junior High and St. Patrick's School.
The airport won a victory when the 3-year study concluded in October that nothing more could be done to reduce noise from the airport. The study recommended that the airport buy 54 nearby homes and help pay for sound-muffling insulation in 2,300 others in return for agreements from the owners acknowledging the airport's right to inflict noise on their property.
This followed a ruling in September by a Los Angeles Superior Court judge, who held that it was too late for neighboring homeowners to sue the airport over noise that had been an accepted part of the local environment for many years. The ruling concerned 24 plaintiffs but dashed the hopes of a group of about 600 others who had brought similar suits.