At a time when Southern California airports are struggling with a soaring passenger load, a deal between Orange County and Newport Beach officials could allow the city to block John Wayne Airport from building a second runway for commercial jets.
The Newport Beach City Council on Tuesday signed off on a pact that would allow it to quash any county plans to buy land for a second runway or expand John Wayne's existing commercial runway to the south -- pleasing residents long frustrated with jets screeching overhead.
In turn, the city would be barred from annexing airport land or allowing homes to be built near the airport's "crash zone" to the south.
"We think the biggest threat to the community is a second runway," because of the noise, City Manager Homer Bludau said. "The total degradation of Newport Beach to expand John Wayne isn't in the best interests of the county."
Orange County supervisors will consider the plan this month, the deal's final hurdle. It would not require Federal Aviation Administration approval because the plan does not affect the airport's current operations, an agency spokesman said.
The vote comes as Los Angeles officials are encouraging Southland airports to shoulder more of the region's travelers, whose numbers are expected to double by 2030. This year, L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa called for airlines to center their international flights at LAX while smaller airports take on new domestic trips.
L.A. City Councilman Tony Cardenas condemned the Orange County action.
"For them to even consider this ... it's unconscionable and it's irresponsible," he said.
Orange County officials are shirking their responsibility to help absorb the region's growing air traffic, he said. While their constituents complain about jet noise, "L.A. County, LAX and Ontario are going to pushed and pushed and pushed to bear the burden" of Southern California's air travel needs.
John Wayne Airport's importance has grown as LAX and Long Beach Airport near their growth limits. In 2002, Orange County voters opted for a Great Park and other development at the former El Toro Marine base instead of a larger commercial airport for the county. Cardenas and other L.A. officials even made a last-ditch -- and unsuccessful -- pitch to federal officials to let Los Angeles operate an airport at the closed base.
In two to three decades, John Wayne Airport is expected to go from handling half the local flight demand to one-third, according to the Southern California Assn. of Governments.
The airport, on track to handle 9.6 million travelers in 2006, plans to build a third terminal and add parking to ease congestion. It's already so packed that officials recently turned down a request from Southwest Airlines to add more passengers, airport spokeswoman Jenny Wedge said.
"It can't expand without stretching those runways out," said Don Hughes, deputy chief of staff for Orange County Supervisor Jim Silva, whose district includes the airport. "It's always been a community airport ... and we can't do something that would increase flights without the community's input."
The airport has long had a prickly relationship with its well-to-do neighbors. Since 1985, a court settlement that gives Newport Beach a say in airport matters has guided its expansion.
The settlement limits airport hours and noise -- resulting in the signature steep ascents upon takeoff from John Wayne. It also initially capped passengers at 8.4 million a year.
In 2002, the FAA approved raising the number of daily commercial flights to 85 and the annual passenger cap to 10.8 million travelers by 2011. The deal expires in 2015.
Newport Beach administrators, fearful that voters' rejection of the El Toro airport plan would force John Wayne to grow, formed a task force with county officials. Over three years, the group hashed out the proposal the City Council approved.
"There's going to be continuous pressure to expand the airport. It's inevitable. There's nowhere else to go," said Melinda Seely, president of AirFair, a group of Newport Beach residents opposed to airport expansion. "So the more controls we have, the better off our city and all our neighbors are."
Times staff writer Jennifer Oldham contributed to this report.