On November 1, 2017, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit handed down a sweeping victory for Buchalter’s client Bonner County, owner and operator of Sandpoint Airport in Sandpoint, Idaho.
 
The airport was sued in 2012 by real estate developer SilverWing at Sandpoint, LLC for actions the county took in order to achieve compliance with federal aviation regulations and specific safety directives from the Federal Aviation Administration.  SilverWing sought tens of millions of dollars in damages under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for alleged inverse condemnation and violation of equal protection in addition to a state law claim for breach of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing arising from a “through-the-fence” access agreement.
 
After prevailing on summary judgment in the U.S. District Court for the District of Idaho, Buchalter’s Aviation Practice Group, led by attorneys Barbara Lichman and Paul Fraidenburgh, won a complete victory in the Ninth Circuit on every issue across the board, including the affirmance of an attorney fee and cost award totaling almost $800,000 (which is likely to increase after appellate fees and costs are added).
 
With respect to the preempted state law claim, the Ninth Circuit held: 


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The Federal Aviation Administration (“FAA”) has added another arrow to its quiver in its ongoing campaign to limit residential and commercial development in even the remotest vicinity of airports.  In late April, FAA originally published a “Proposal to Consider the Impact of One Engine Inoperative Procedures in Obstruction Evaluation Aeronautical Studies” (“Proposal”) which seeks to supplement existing procedures for analyzing the obstruction impact of new structures or modifications to existing structures on aircraft operations within certain distances around airports (see 14 C.F.R. Part 77), with consideration of the impact of structures on one engine inoperative (“OEI”) emergency procedures.  OEI procedures are not currently included in FAA’s obstruction regulations which advise local land use jurisdictions on appropriate limits to building heights within specified geographic zones around airports to accommodate the takeoff and landing clearance needed by aircraft with their full complement of operating engines.  From an aeronautical perspective, FAA’s initiative sounds desirable and long overdue, even though the occurrence of engine loss is rare.  From the perspective of local jurisdictions, landowners and developers, however, the proposal is anathema, potentially leading to dramatically lower allowable building heights and concomitantly reduced property values, even far from the airport. 


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On July 27, 2012, Los Angeles World Airports (“LAWA”) released the “Specific Plan Amendment Study Draft Environmental Impact Report” (“DEIR”), involving, among other things: (1) a realignment and extension of runways to the east on the North Airfield Complex, including a separation of the two north runways to permit their unimpeded use by the largest operating aircraft, A-380s and 747-800s (“Category VI”); (2) expansion and renovation of the terminals; and (3) associated movement and potential undergrounding of surrounding thoroughfares including Lincoln Boulevard.  Sides are already forming over the proposed plan. 


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The California Department of Transportation, Aviation Division (“Caltrans”) has announced yet another delay in the publication of the “California Airport Land Use Planning Handbook” (“Handbook”). The Handbook constitutes guidance for California’s airport land use commissions (“ALUC”) in the establishment of height, density and intensity restrictions for land uses around California airports. This delay continues and even increases the risk of conflict between ALUCs and local land use jurisdictions throughout California. 

ALUC restrictions are not the last word concerning land uses around airports, as local land use jurisdictions have final authority to approve or disapprove land uses within their own boundaries. However, ALUC restrictions can make it more difficult for a local jurisdiction to effectuate previously enacted development plans in the vicinity of an airport. This is because, to overcome the ALUC determination of inconsistency with ALUC restrictions, the local jurisdiction must overrule the ALUC by a two-thirds vote, a hurdle often difficult if not impossible to overcome because of fears of liability.


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Section 21670 of the California State Aeronautics Act requires that every county in which there is an airport that is served by a scheduled airline establish an Airport Land Use Commission (ALUC) “to protect public health, safety, and welfare by ensuring the orderly expansion of airports and the adoption of land use measures that minimize the public’s exposure to excessive noise and safety hazards within areas around public airports to the extent that these areas are not already devoted to incompatible uses.” One of the duties of the ALUC is to adopt an Airport Land Use Compatibility Plan (ALUCP). In formulating an ALUCP, an ALUC has the power to develop height restrictions on buildings, specify use of land and determine building standards within the Airport Influence Area (AIA) designated by the ALUC.


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