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Burbank businessman arrested over feeding of birds near airport

Officials worry that hundreds of pigeons flocking near Bob Hope Airport could pose a danger to aircraft.

August 22, 2011|By Maria Hsin, Los Angeles Times
  • An aircraft approaches a runway behind planes parked by the main terminal at Bob Hope Airport. Officials are worried that flocks of pigeons flying over the airport could result in dangerous bird strikes by aircraft.
An aircraft approaches a runway behind planes parked by the main terminal… (Francine Orr, Los Angeles…)

For nearly a year, officials have been trying to figure out what to do with Charles Douglas.

The 59-year-old owner of Precise Roofing Co. in Burbank has been feeding flocks of pigeons since at least September 2010, officials say, which — beyond violating municipal code — has created a major safety hazard for jet airplanes using the nearby Bob Hope Airport as the birds' numbers have grown into the hundreds.

On Friday, after two court citations and a bench warrant for feeding the pigeons, Burbank police arrested Douglas at his business on Hollywood Way and Tulare Avenue.

Airport police Cmdr. Allen Schmitt said a plane strikes a bird at the airport once every two months on average. But the rate of strikes has increased recently, with five incidents in July alone, he added.

"Most of those were multiple — 10 to 20 to 30 birds at once," Schmitt said. "Now it's becoming extraordinarily dangerous."

In July, a Southwest Airlines flight was diverted to Ontario after it flew into 20 to 30 pigeons during takeoff, he said.

"A pigeon is not a problem, but a flock — that's a problem," he said.

Douglas' arrest was the culmination of months of legal wrangling to stop the feeding.

In December 2010 and again in February, he was found guilty of feeding pigeons so as to create a nuisance, court documents show.

On July 31, Douglas was again cited for feeding pigeons, Schmitt said.

The arrest warrant was issued Aug. 11.

"Our interest in this and the reason we are so invested — we're not talking about 20 or 30 pigeons in the middle of nowhere; there are upward of 200 to 300 to 400 pigeons flying over runways," Schmitt said.

Douglas, a Glendale resident, was arrested on suspicion of disobeying the court order and creating a public nuisance by feeding pigeons, according to police.

Burbank Assistant City Atty. Denny Wei said the maximum penalty for a conviction on one of the misdemeanors is six months in jail and/or a $1,000 fine.

For Douglas' employees, and those who work at adjacent businesses, the arrest was a surprise.

Jared Garay, who works at the nearby Hub Network, said he regularly saw "more birds than you're ever gonna see in most circumstances."

"I always wondered why all these birds are there," he added.

White streaks of bird feces coat the black gates behind Precise Roofing Co. Gray and white feathers dot the sidewalk.

Chaz Miseroy, an employee at the motorcycle shop next to Dougals' roofing company, said he had seen a lot of pigeons but never saw any feedings.

"Whether it's true or not, I don't know," Miseroy said. "If it is true, what's more important? Feeding birds that can feed themselves or risking the lives of people on a plane?"

Multiple attempts to reach Douglas were unsuccessful.

Bird strikes can cause significant damage to an airplane, said Ian Gregor, a spokesman for the Federal Aviation Administration, recalling that about 11 years ago, a plane leaving Los Angeles International Airport hit a bird, damaging the engine and causing chunks of it to rain down on Dockweiler State Beach, near picnickers.

Bob Hope and other commercial airports are required to have wildlife mitigation plans, but those requirements don't apply outside airport grounds, Gregor said.

"Obviously it's not a good idea to attract wildlife to areas around the airport. Threats of a bird strike are a very real one," he said.

maria.hsin@latimes.com

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