Something’s Missing Here

The recently-proposed terms of settlement with the Airport Authority for the Hollywood Burbank Airport lack one feature I’ve been demanding for 25 years: An enforceable, mandatory curfew on most flights between 11pm and 7am.  (Safety service flights, like police helicopters, and commercial traffic delayed by weather would be among the exceptions.)

Early on in airport discussions in the 90s I was like any citizen looking to apply common sense.  I wanted the Authority, or the city itself, to simply impose such a curfew.  After all, when Lockheed sold the enterprise and we were asked to join cities operating the airport, that’s what we were promised.  “Burbank can control the noise!”

It took me years to do the research and consult with enough experts to finally accept that only the federal government can legally impose a curfew.  But at the same time, I became convinced that, to remain consistent with other curfew decisions, the Federal Aviation Administration should have “grandfathered” Burbank’s voluntary curfew into a mandatory one years earlier.

When the Authority later went through a “Part 161,” an FAA process supposedly created to allow applications for mandatory curfews, I recognized it as the empty gesture it was.  Indeed, most I know locally believed the process was virtually certain to end in failure, this despite the Authority investing a couple of million in taxpayer funds in that bit of federal Kabuki.

Still, while campaigning for the council office I now hold, I repeatedly assured voters that winning a curfew remained a priority.  I explained that, back in the days I was reporting on all manner of airport-related negotiations, a strategy was designed and considered, one I thought was long overdue for implementation.

It was in my very first conference as an elected official with our city attorney and another lawyer long employed as our expert in aviation-related matters – not coincidentally, the man who helped create the strategy – that I announced my intent to resurrect it, and to try and convince my colleagues to adopt it.

The plan was known as a “cram down,” and it envisioned the city side-stepping negotiations with Glendale and Pasadena, confronting the FAA directly.  In short, we’d belligerently tell the FAA it could win our approval of a new terminal only when a mandatory curfew was enacted.  That would be the beginning and end of “negotiations.”

For years Burbank avoided that direct step for a variety of reasons, many of them good ones, instead nibbling around the edges.  When I took office and suggested it was time to give it a try, the city’s aviation attorney explained the time for such an effort had passed.  The man we’ve paid millions to for his knowledge of the system and insights into the aviation system explained that an attempted cram down now would cause the FAA to respond in kind, freezing Burbank out from any solutions the FAA might eventually offer, this while also poisoning positive relationships we’ve formed in Congress.  And, for having tried to carve them out of the process, we’d destroy a mutual trust finally reached with Glendale and Pasadena.

The lawyers explained how changes in national politics, developments in Congress (or the lack thereof), the change in party control and the FAA’s attitude toward Burbank’s concerns all rendered the “cram down” not only pointless, but as destructive to our interests.

I don’t claim to be a legal scholar, nor a master negotiator.  And I don’t take legal advice blindly.  But those we engage to rent us their expertise were unsparing in telling me the time for a “cram down” had passed.  Further, and especially with that introduction, my colleagues were not interested in pursuing the cram down.

So, it’s natural that many I spoke to while campaigning are disappointed today.  The package being proposed does not include a guaranteed or immediate mandatory curfew.  But it’s not because I changed my mind on the goal, or was insincere.  Instead, in fact, I simply failed.  I came too late.  Too many changes had taken place, and I didn’t learn that until well after those changes.  We have to chase that target on a slower path.

The chase has certainly NOT been made up just of failures.  I’m enormously proud that we were able to end the council almost exclusively discussing airport issues in confidential, closed sessions.  Closed sessions on airport issues halted almost completely in July, 2015.

About the time I was elected, the then-council had just agreed unanimously to support a series of agreements with Pasadena and Glendale.  I insisted we revisit publicly virtually all those points set in secret.  In the 13 months since, we’ve been able to openly negotiate a package that has seen Burbank’s obligations slashed from what the ENTIRE council had previously opined would be acceptable.  And in exchange, the obligations of the Airport Authority, Pasadena and Glendale were either left untouched, or added to.

Yes, along the way we did lose the support of one council member.  But that flip-flop appears premised more upon an imminent reelection effort than any legitimate objection.  He now cites features that supposedly came up since July, 2015 as the motivation for his reversal, but an ample record shows he’s offering a Trump-like version of the calendar.  He was once a proponent of features he now condemns.  We’re now in a strange “Twilight Zone” world where assuring the ballot measure is voted on by the largest number of city voters is supposedly scandalous, part of the devious machinations of the dark side – at least for those who always imagine a dark side, which coincidentally makes it that much more urgent to reelect the great protector.

It’s possible the turnaround came about just because the fifth council member was eager to accept credit for an agreement accomplished when he was Mayor or Vice Mayor.  But once he was simply one of five, he reverted to his years-long pattern of distinguishing himself from the crowd by being the one to bellow, “no!” clumsily juggling for supposed reasons after the fact.

I can’t read minds, and so can’t explain another’s change of heart.  In fact, even he claimed two weeks ago to have no serious issues with the terminal plan.  Instead, he said his newfound doubts are premised upon an alleged “rush to judgment,” this because a council majority supports putting the plan before Burbank voters in an election where it will be considered by significantly more voters than the average municipal election turn-out.  He claims that by November the public will have had too little time to consider the issue and offer input.

Odd that wasn’t a concern when the council was taking positions with the discussions held in secret.  Despite virtually countless invitations for public comment and input in recent years, running the gamut from public meetings and presentations, to council members pleading for questions from constituents, now we’re being told the public will not have had enough opportunity to comment and offer input if they’re asked to vote on the current proposal in November.

I am supporting the proposal being put before voters, and I’m convinced it offers benefits and protections we hadn’t even imagined when battles with the airport were at their height.  You’ll see those and others as publicity circulates in the coming weeks and months.  But there’s no point to trying to hide or spin the truth on the one point I consider a personal failure: I have not accomplished a mandatory, enforceable curfew on all night-time flights.

I suppose I could claim that was a stunning shift just revealed with the opening of previously secret talks.  Or perhaps I could cut and paste carefully selected excerpts from court decisions to create a recent judgment that supposedly confirms my latest position.  But I’ve always found telling the truth is a lot easier than trying to keep all the plates of convoluted lies spinning.  And while I may not enjoy the fawning praise of dupes, I can at least get by on some legitimate self-respect.

Regardless of how you or anyone else actually votes on the ballot measure, I am also extremely pleased that, at long last, the last word on an airport proposal will be decided not by city staff, and not by council members, but by the people of Burbank.