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Valley Perspective

No Planning by Ballot Box

October 29, 2000

"Who would campaign against democracy?" asked Burbank City Manager Robert R. "Bud" Ovrom, explaining why no one had submitted an argument against Measure B on Burbank's Nov. 7 ballot.

Funny, we thought Burbank had been practicing democracy all along, even without Measure B, which would amend the Municipal Code to require voter approval of any agreement to expand or relocate the Burbank Airport terminal. Burbank practices representative democracy, the kind favored by the Founding Fathers all those years ago. Or at least it did.

But representative government apparently doesn't cut it any more, even among those representatives elected to govern. Tired of holding the hot seat in the decades-long battle over building a new airport terminal, the five Burbank City Council members wrote Measure B themselves.

Ovrom calls putting decisions directly to voters democracy. It could also be called passing the buck. By not making a decision, council members protect themselves against being turned out of office by disgruntled voters, which is how representative democracy works.

Granted, Measure B is a less blunt instrument than an earlier initiative proposed by the anti-airport group Restore Our Airport Rights. ROAR would have required approval of a new terminal by two-thirds of the voters rather than a simple majority. And it would have mandated curfews and flight caps, ignoring the reality of federal laws that prohibit airports from setting such rules unilaterally. (A federal study of a proposed curfew is underway.)

The initiative was disqualified because signature petitions failed to name the measure's chief proponents. Perhaps in part to forestall another attempt--although ROAR has already said it will try again--the City Council penned the less restrictive Measure B.

But Measure B is still planning-by-ballot-box, an inefficient way to go about any complex land-use decision.

It would limit the credibility of elected officials when they engage in the delicate negotiations required to balance the needs of air commerce and the needs of neighborhoods.

It would mean still more delays for a new terminal, even one that would merely relocate, not expand, the old terminal in use since the 1930s and built too close to the runway to meet modern safety standards.

And it could, ironically, push the airport to select another, less ideal location for a new terminal, one that is already owned by the Airport Authority and therefore would not require voter ratification--or, for that matter, allow Burbank's elected officials the input they have now.

These are arguments against Measure B. Burbank voters may disagree with them, but to dismiss such concerns as a vote against democracy is just plain wrong.

It would limit the credibility of elected officials when they engage in the delicate negotiations required to balance the needs of air commerce and the needs of neighborhoods.

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