BURBANK — Federal Aviation Administrator Jane Garvey on Wednesday urged the city of Burbank to reconsider its decision to suspend work on a development agreement for a new Burbank Airport terminal.
In a letter dated Wednesday, the FAA administrator said she was "troubled" by the city's decision to sidetrack the talks. She disputed Burbank's allegation that her agency hurt negotiations by pointing out problems in the deal without proposing specific remedies.
"I believe these candid and detailed exchanges equipped the city and [airport] representatives to fully understand federal requirements, and therefore enabled them to begin the process of formulating an implementation plan for the terminal," Garvey said.
The city and the Burbank-Glendale-Pasadena Airport Authority have been negotiating a deal to build a larger terminal. One of the provisions sought by Burbank is a ban on takeoffs to the east, over a residential area of the city.
In a recent letter to The Times, Garvey raised doubts about that provision and a lack of participation by Los Angeles residents, who live to the west and south. But Burbank officials say Garvey has not been specific enough.
"The problem is that the FAA has been using words like 'can,' 'might' or 'could' that are subject to interpretation rather than 'must' or 'shall,' which is definitive," said Charles Lombardo, one of Burbank's three commissioners on the Airport Authority. "Two people can look at the same word and come up with totally opposite interpretations."
In a Feb. 3 letter, Burbank Mayor Stacey Murphy told the Airport Authority the city was suspending negotiations. Among other things, she cited concerns that Garvey was responding to pressure from the airlines to block the agreement because they oppose plans to close the terminal from 11 p.m. to 6 a.m.
Before resuming talks, Murphy demanded the FAA agree to help draft a terminal expansion agreement that would be "legally defensible."
In her response, Garvey said her agency stood ready to assist in the formulation of "a viable implementation plan." FAA officials would not comment beyond the letter.
Murphy said she saw reason for optimism in Garvey's letter but expressed frustration with the vagueness of the response.
"I was looking for very specific answers to very specific questions," Murphy said. "I'm glad they responded quickly. But I still don't know, for example, if it's legal to close the terminal at night. Why spend thousands of dollars on an agreement that is unenforceable?"
The back-and-forth between the FAA and Burbank comes about six months after the city and the airport ended years of intense fighting by signing a preliminary deal Aug. 3, calling it a framework for settlement to build a 14-gate facility.
The draft agreement called for the airport to close its terminal building between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m., link ultimate expansion to 19 gates to a mandatory overnight curfew, a $1.5 million annual payment from the airport to the city in lieu of lost property revenue, permanently banning easterly takeoffs and limiting the number of passengers using the terminal.
Within days of the framework agreement, provisions of the deal drew immediate fire from groups, including the airlines, local political leaders, residents and the FAA.
Critics said closing the terminal and linking growth to a curfew violated federal interstate commerce laws.
Others--including Reps. Howard Berman (D-Mission Hills), Brad Sherman (D-Sherman Oaks) and Henry Waxman (D-Los Angeles)--argued that residents south and west of the airport would be unfairly burdened with aircraft noise.
The Burbank City Council passed a measure calling for an advisory vote on the draft agreement. No date has been set for the vote.
Meanwhile, a group called Restore Our Airport Rights (ROAR) has been collecting signatures for a city ballot initiative that would prohibit the City Council from approving a terminal larger than 200,000 square feet and 14 gates, and requiring a mandatory nighttime curfew and flight caps.
Airport officials have been trying to build a new terminal for two decades, but the project has been stalled by concerns it would lead to more noise.
In August 1998, Garvey met with city and airport officials and urged them to come up with a local solution to the dispute.