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Measure Doesn't Fly

Whether voters want as much control over Burbank Airport as a ballot initiative would give them is debatable. Whether they legally could exercise such control is more questionable still.

April 08, 2001

Unwilling to trust Burbank city leaders to represent them in dealings with Burbank Airport, a group called Restore Our Airport Rights, or ROAR, has collected enough signatures to place on the ballot one of the finest examples of ineptitude-by-initiative imaginable.

If approved in a special city election in July, the initiative would bar the Burbank City Council from "the construction, expansion or financing of an airport facility" without first imposing a mandatory curfew and flight cap and winning the approval of two-thirds of the electorate.

According to Charles Lombardo, one of Burbank's three representatives to the airport's tri-city governing body, the airport wouldn't be able to put in a new sewer pipe without voter approval.

Whether voters want that much control over the Burbank-Glendale-Pasadena Airport is debatable. Whether they legally could exercise such control is more questionable still.

ROAR's petition conveniently ignores federal laws designed to prevent the balkanization that would occur should every community around every airport in the country set its own rules and hours. The federal Airport Noise and Capacity Act, passed by Congress in 1990, set up rigid criteria for municipalities attempting to pass noise restrictions on airline traffic.

ROAR co-founder Ted McConkey disingenuously claims the initiative gets around federal law governing aviation safety and interstate commerce by telling the city, not the airport, what it can and cannot do. Of course, in the case of the Burbank Airport's long-stalled new terminal, the airport needs city approval to proceed.

And then there's the initiative's requirement for a two-thirds majority when state law mandates a two-thirds vote only for new taxes or bond measures.

ROAR's most egregious disconnect from reality is its contention that the Burbank City Council hasn't been tough enough with the airport. Just where has ROAR been all these years the airport has been trying to replace its 70-year-old terminal?

Burbank got everything it asked for in a draft agreement reached two years ago on a new terminal. When the FAA quashed that agreement because it included a de facto curfew not approved by a federally mandated study, the city got the airport to begin the study. It has since called for still more concessions and has forced the Airport Authority into a corner by triggering a requirement that it sell land set aside for a terminal.

The Burbank City Council even put its own measure on the ballot last November amending the municipal code to require voter approval of any agreement to expand or relocate the terminal. The measure passed.

The Times criticized the City Council then for promoting planning-by-ballot-box and we have chided it before for playing hardball when a new terminal is so clearly needed. But in this instance, it is ROAR, not the City Council, that is clearly off base.

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