LONG BEACH — Nearly one year after a federal judge struck down its airport noise control law as unconstitutional, the City Council has given tentative approval to a new ordinance that already has residents, businesses and airlines kicking.
The proposed law would impose no limit on the number of flights that take off and land at Long Beach Airport, as has been the city's custom since 1981. Instead, it would restrict the average amount of aircraft noise generated in one year to 65 decibels--the approximate equivalent of an office with a clacking typewriter and several telephones ringing.
Experts said the proposed ordinance probably would hold total airport noise to its current standard of 65 decibels.
But initial reviews were less than glowing from homeowners who are demanding strict flight quotas and from airlines that are resisting restrictions altogether.
"Women with children and older men in Bixby Knolls alone are prepared to carry picket signs right down at the airport. We are prepared to generate a boycott of the airport," vowed Tom Housel of the Community Airport Council, a newly formed homeowners action group formed to fight for airport noise limits.
"We were not consulted one iota, we wouldn't agree to it one iota and it is not going to stop any lawsuits," John J. Lyons, lead attorney for several airlines currently suing the city, warned at Tuesday's council meeting.
The already-controversial ordinance is the product of seven years of litigation started by Alaska Airlines and ended by a Nov. 18 ruling issued by U.S. District Judge Laughlin E. Waters in Los Angeles.
Waters held that the City Council's limit of 32 flights a day was arbitrary, that it discriminated against airlines, burdened interstate commerce, violated federal laws and failed to consider new technology that makes airplanes quieter.
The judge raised the daily flight quota to 40 and ordered the city to come up with a new ordinance that would control noise without limiting flights.
The city is appealing the ruling in an attempt to reinstate the old flight limit. Meanwhile, however, it must present to the judge on Nov. 13 an ordinance that abides by his order.
"Unless and until someone tells the district judge that his order is wrong, we have to live with it," said Lee Blackman, a private attorney who represents the city in the airlines' lawsuit.
After a year of research and more than 1,200 pages of data, the city attorney's office this week presented the council with two proposed ordinances: one that would limit the average yearly aircraft noise to 65 decibels and another that would allow more noise by insulating homes to make them sound-resistant.
Council members flatly rejected any notion of soundproofed homes, which the judge had ordered them to consider.
"You can't soundproof a back yard. You can't soundproof a playground," Councilman Jeff Kellogg sniffed. "The federal judge has put us in a box if you will. What we are trying to do is maneuver."
But some officials say the proposed law probably would prevent any increase in noise because the airport is already held to the 65-decibel limit and occasionally exceeds it. It would mean, however, that the number of actual flights could exceed the current limit of 40 as long as they were quiet enough to stay within the yearly quota.
"Presently the total noise is a little more than that," said Deputy City Atty. Roger P. Freeman, an author of the proposed ordinance. "The idea is that there not be any more noise."
The 65-decibel limit is only an average. Daytime aircraft noise could rise to as high as 101.5 decibels, one decibel less than the current limit. Nighttime restrictions would be the same as those currently imposed--79 decibels between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m.
The new law would allow a slightly higher limit of 85 decibels from 10 to 11 p.m. and from 6 to 7 a.m., however, to allow pilots to ease into the night restrictions.
If passed, the law would provide for fines of up to $1,000 after the fourth offense and would increase by $1,000 for every offense thereafter, a schedule some pilots complained could bankrupt a small plane owner while a major airline would scarcely feel the pinch.
The proposed law is subject to revision and community comment before it goes back to the council Oct. 31 for more discussion and, possibly, a final vote.
But tempers were flaring before it won even preliminary approval, suggesting that it will travel a turbulent course before it could become law.
"We will never turn this city back into an Iowa cornfield," Lyons, the airlines' attorney, snapped.
"I can't share, because this is in litigation, how offensive I find your remark," District 7 Councilman Ray Grabinski said.
The ordinance was tentatively approved by unanimous vote with District 9 Councilman Warren Hardwood absent.
The proposed ordinance will come before the City Council again Oct. 31 for a second reading, giving concerned parties the opportunity to suggest revisions and to comment. If no revisions are made, the council will probably take a final vote. If passed, it is subject to review by U.S. District Judge Laughlin E. Waters on Nov. 13. If approved by the court, the measure would become law 30 days after the council's final vote.