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Burbank Airport Faces 2nd Lawsuit


The city of Los Angeles sued Burbank Airport on Friday, alleging that the airport's new terminal will cause noise, air pollution and traffic problems that airport officials illegally refuse to remedy.

The lawsuit filed in Superior Court marked the latest chapter in a bitter wrangle between the city and the Burbank-Glendale-Pasadena Airport Authority that goes back many years.

A similar lawsuit was filed earlier this week by the Los Angeles Unified School District, complaining that a bigger terminal will increase aircraft noise, hindering classroom teaching in two dozen schools in the eastern San Fernando Valley.

Airport spokesman Victor Gill later scoffed that the city lawsuit would fail as have several prior Los Angeles attempts to control airport operations. "Each and every time, the airport has come out on the right side," Gill said.

In March, the Airport Authority approved plans to build a new $200-million, 690,000-square-foot terminal that will be five times larger than the existing facility, with twice as many passenger gates and a capacity to handle 5 million passengers each year. The new terminal is to be built in stages and completed in the year 2010.

The lawsuit contends that the airport's state-required environmental impact report "improperly concludes" that the expansion will cause neither "a significant effect on aircraft noise exposure" nor "significant effect on local or regional air quality" and so no mitigating measures are needed.

"It's patently absurd," Deputy City Atty. Keith Pritsker said. "I personally think the airport will be a great benefit to the economy and airline-using public. But what we're litigating is that the airport must recognize and mitigate its environmental impacts."

If successful, the lawsuit could force the airport to pay for and install sound-deadening insulation in homes under the flight path and attempt to reroute takeoffs so they pass over Burbank instead of over neighborhoods to the west in the city of Los Angeles, Pritsker said.

News of the lawsuit was greeted with pleasure by homeowner activists in the east San Fernando Valley who have long complained that aircraft noise is ruining their lives.

"We're pleased that the city believes the airport's EIR is deficient," said Tom Paterson, chairman of the Homeowner Coalition on Aircraft Noise.

Last week, homeowners met with Los Angeles City Council President John Ferraro and urged him to join Rep. Howard L. Berman (D-Panorama City) in asking the Federal Aviation Administration not to certify the airport's environmental impact report, said Renee Weitzer, a Ferraro aide.

Ferraro has not made a decision on the issue, Weitzer said.

Without FAA certification, the expansion project would be impossible.

The Airport Authority "sees the EIR as a Pandora's box," Pritsker said. "That's why they won't even recognize that their expanded facility would have any significant environmental impact."

If the airport acknowledges such impacts exist, then it must, by law, quantify them and take any reasonable steps needed to mitigate them, Pritsker said.

"We had a similar problem at our city-owned Ontario Airport," Pritsker added. "The neighbors were complaining about noise and our airport board urged the FAA to support a change in flight patterns. Now, we're just saying Burbank can and should do the same thing."

In 1984, the city lost litigation designed to block another terminal expansion plan at Burbank. The judge ruled then, Pritsker said, that the city was suing the wrong party. "He ruled that airplanes make noise, not airports," Pritsker said.

This is, in essence, the core of the Airport Authority's contention that there is no need for it to come up with remedies.

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