BURBANK — Even before the results of the April general election are in, a new majority is emerging on the Burbank City Council whose members state they will order a referendum on the controversial issue of airport expansion.
The anti-expansion bloc not only intends to ensure that the public will be heard, but is determined to see plans for a larger Burbank Airport scaled back, according to interviews following last week's primary election.
Supporters say expansion is necessary to serve natural growth in demand for air travel in the San Fernando Valley and surrounding areas. Opponents, led by residents who live under the flight path in Burbank and in Los Angeles, say they fear the noise and traffic pollution that expansion will bring.
The present council has generally favored expansion by a 3-2 margin. In November, Council members George Battey Jr. and Robert Bowne joined Mayor Bill Wiggins in defeating a proposed referendum.
But with Bowne and Battey retiring and two new council members arriving in May, the balance of power is certain to shift.
Bob Kramer, a newspaper columnist and painting contractor who won outright last week, said he supports the idea of a popular vote.
Competing for the council's last open seat in the April runoff election are Mary Lou Howard, a former mayor, and Ted McConkey, a retired aerospace worker. Both favor putting the matter to a vote, and McConkey said he favors a binding referendum.
The Feb. 28 primary "was a wake-up call and a vote of no confidence in (airport officials), generally, and airport commissioners specifically," said McConkey, who has been endorsed by expansion critic and council member Susan Spanos.
"They should know the Burbank City Council and the people of Burbank will assert their right to control growth out there," he added.
Airport officials, meanwhile, continue to move forward with the first phase of the controversial, multimillion-dollar project.
They want to build a larger terminal that would improve the airport's ability to serve the public by adding up to 10 commercial flights a day to the present average of 93 and enough space to accommodate 5.4 million passengers flying into and out of Burbank in three years.
On Monday, airport officials discussed how best to use a $4.7-million federal grant for improving street access to and from the terminal, among other things. Planned is the widening of a portion of Hollywood Way leading to the airport's entrance.
Projections provided by airport officials show that automobile traffic in and out of Burbank Airport will surge in nine years to about 1,980 vehicles during the average peak hour, more than double that of four years ago.
As an increasingly popular and convenient destination for air travelers in the San Fernando Valley, the Burbank Airport reached a record 4.6 million passengers during the 1994 fiscal year, about 10% of the volume at Los Angeles International Airport.
The growing opposition in Burbank is based on worry about increased aircraft noise and traffic a terminal nearly three times the present size might bring.
The trend is appreciated by a longtime foe of expansion, the city of Los Angeles. City officials representing residents in the southeast San Fernando Valley have unsuccessfully sued twice to halt expansion. Despite their most recent setback in December, Los Angeles officials saw the Burbank elections as a cause for optimism.
"I would not say we're delighted to see the project stopped, but we're glad to see a majority in Burbank that seems to have a better understanding that there are environmental consequences," said Los Angeles Deputy City Atty. Keith Pritsker.
Airport officials contend the need to push the project along quickly has less to do with the changing dynamics on the Burbank council than other factors, such as buying land needed for the new terminal in a timely manner.
One of the first steps taken by airport officials to finance the land purchase was to seek the Burbank City Council's approval for issuing $100 million in tax-exempt bonds.
Federal law requires a public hearing before the council can approve the bonds. A hearing has been set for March 21 over the objections of Spanos and Vice Mayor Dave Golonski, who have said the decision should be postponed until the new council is seated.
While acknowledging that new council members may not take office soon enough to stop the bonds, Kramer, Howard and McConkey said they would vote to deny a change in land-use that is required before the new terminal can be built.
Currently, about 30 acres for the expansion that Burbank Airport officials hope to acquire from the Lockheed Corp. are designated for industrial use. It must be rezoned for airport use before the expansion can take place.
That issue, expected to come before the new council, could provide a powerful bargaining tool for the new majority.