During the week of August 19, 2019, both the Appellate and Supreme Courts of California issued decisive opinions clarifying the parameters of agency action subject to environmental review under the California Environmental Quality Act, Cal. Pub. Res. Code § 21000, et seq., (“CEQA”). The courts were responding to repeated efforts by public entities to circumvent their CEQA obligations by redefining the actions that constitute a “project” subject to analysis under CEQA. Those public entities which have attempted to so minimize their exposure under CEQA include several airports in California, most notably, Los Angeles International Airport (“LAX”). In its environmental review of the Specific Plan Amendment Study of several years ago, LAX relied on precisely the Project Definition soundly rejected by the California courts as set forth below.

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In an unexpected turn of events, the Federal Aviation Administration (“FAA”) has denied an application by Los Angeles World Airports (“LAWA”), under 14 C.F.R. Part 161 (“Part 161”), for approval of the nighttime noise mitigation procedure that requires both arrivals and departures to the west and over the Pacific Ocean from 12:00 midnight to 6:00 a.m. (“Application”).  The FAA’s decision was unexpected because the procedure has been in effect on an informal basis for almost 15 years.  LAWA sought FAA approval, pursuant to the requirements of the Airport Noise and Capacity Act of 1990, as amended, 49 U.S.C. § 47521, et seq., (“ANCA”) which requires, among other things, that any restriction on noise or access be approved by FAA or, in the alternative, all the airlines operating at the airport.  In addition, the filing of the Application was required by LAWA’s 2006 settlement with surrounding communities Inglewood, Culver City, El Segundo and the environmental group Alliance for a Regional Solution to Airport Congestion.  

FAA’s denial was based on the Application’s purported noncompliance with three of the six conditions required by ANCA for approval of restrictions on Stage 3, “quieter” aircraft.  These include: (1) the restriction be reasonable, nonarbitrary, and nondiscriminatory; (2) the restriction not create an undue burden on interstate or foreign commerce; (3) the restriction not be inconsistent with maintaining the safe and efficient use of the navigable airspace; (4) the restriction not be in conflict with a law or regulation of the United States; (5) an adequate opportunity be provided for public comment on the restriction; and (6) the restriction not create an undue burden on the national aviation system.  49 U.S.C. § 47524.  
 
FAA’s decision comports with what appears to be its general policy of denying exemptions from ANCA’s stringent restrictions.  


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The Federal Aviation Administration (“FAA”) has scheduled six “briefings” with governmental jurisdictions potentially impacted by the planned “Southern California Optimization of Airspace and Procedures in the Metroplex (SoCal OAPM)” (“Project”).  The Project is expected to involve changes in aircraft flight paths and/or altitudes in areas surrounding Bob Hope (Burbank) Airport (BUR), Camarillo Airport (CMA), Gillespie Field (SEE), McClellan-Palomar Airport (Carlsbad) (CRQ), Montgomery Field (MYF), Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), Long Beach Airport (LGB), Point Magu Naval Air Station (NTD), North Island Naval Air Station (NZY), Ontario International Airport (ONT), Oxnard Airport (OXR), Palm Springs International Airport (PSP), San Diego International Airport (SAN), Santa Barbara Municipal Airport (SBA), Brown Field Municipal Airport (SDM), Santa Monica Municipal Airport (SMO), John Wayne-Orange County Airport (SNA), Jacqueline Cochran Regional Airport (TRM), Bermuda Dunes (UDD), Miramar Marine Corps Air Station (NKX) and Van Nuys Airport (VNY).   
 
These meetings are targeted at “key governmental officials/agencies” for the purpose of soliciting their views on the Environmental Assessment being prepared for the Project pursuant to the requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act, 42 U.S.C. 4321.  The meetings will not be open to the public, although public meetings will be scheduled as well.  
 
It is important to note the regional scope of the planned airspace changes, and that they may redistribute noise, air quality, and other impacts over affected communities, thus implicating new populations, and simultaneously raising citizen ire in newly impacted communities.  It is therefore doubly important that governmental entities participate at the initiation of the process to ensure protection at its culmination.  
 
The governmental meetings are planned for the following locations and times:
 


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Reliever airports, once touted as the solution to major metropolitan airport congestion and its environmental impacts on surrounding communities are now facing daunting financial and competitive challenges from the very same airports they were supposed to relieve.

Reliever airports, defined as “general aviation airports in major metropolitan areas that provide pilots with attractive alternatives to using congested hub airports,” Federal Aviation Administration (“FAA”) Advisory Circular 150/5070-6B, Appendix A, Glossary, were typically developed to occupy a market niche in their local regions.  For years, they succeeded in their task.  Since 2009, however, reliever airports throughout the country have lost substantial proportions of their passengers to the major urban airports.  In Southern California alone, reliever airports such as Ontario International Airport (“ONT”) and Long Beach Airport (“LGB”) have seen massive reductions in their passenger counts.  Now these airports are forced to take drastic steps to remain viable. 
 


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The Transportation Security Agency’s (“TSA”) Screening of Passengers Through Observation Techniques (“SPOT”) program, aimed at revealing potential security issues at airports, was roundly criticized by the Government Accountability Office (“GAO”) in a report released Friday, November 15, 2013.  The report found that the results of the three year old program, employing approximately 3,000 “behavior detection officers” at 146 of the 450 TSA regulated U.S. airports are unvalidated, that the model used to confirm the program’s efficacy was flawed and inconclusive, and that the report used improper control data and methodology and, thus, lacks scientific proof that the program could identify potential assailants. 

The program’s critics include Steven Maland, a GAO Managing Director, Representative Benny Thompson of Mississippi, ranking Democrat on the House of Representative’s Homeland Security Committee, and the Chairman of that Committee, Michael McCall of Texas, all of whom take the position that “the proof is in the pudding.”  They cite the recent attack by a gunman at LAX during which TSA officers at the security checkpoint failed to push the panic button to alert local authorities, but instead used an abandoned landline, giving the gunman the opportunity of four minutes and 150 rounds of ammunition before he was stopped.
 


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The Cities of Inglewood, Culver City and Ontario, California and the County of San Bernardino (“Cities/County”) joined together yesterday, May 30, 2013, to file a challenge to the recently approved Los Angeles International Airport (“LAX”) Specific Plan Amendment Study (“SPAS”) expansion project.  The project includes: the further separation of runways on the North Airfield to

On March 27, 2013, the Los Angeles County Airport Land Use Commission (“ALUC”) gave the latest in a series of approvals including those from Los Angeles Board of Airport of Commissioners (“BOAC”) and Los Angeles City Planning Commission, of the proposed Los Angeles International Airport Specific Plan Amendment Study Project (“Project”).  The Project includes construction of a new terminal, addition of runway safety lighting, and, its centerpiece, the reconfiguration of the North Runway Complex with movement of runway 6L/24R 260 feet north. 

Most notably, the Project will impose dramatic impacts on surrounding communities, including significant new noise impacts on over 14,000 people, 12,000 in the City of Inglewood alone.  Moreover, the Project adversely impacts the goal of regionalization which is a centerpiece of the Stipulated Settlement signed by the Petitioners in City of El Segundo, et al. v. City of Los Angeles, et al., Riverside County Superior Court Case No. RIC426822.  A principal goal of that settlement was, and remains, diversion of air traffic to other airports in the region, not the encouragement of access to LAX. 
 


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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 Los Angeles Times reports that, while economic conditions are slowly improving throughout most of the nation, including most of California, California’s Inland Empire, comprised of Riverside and San Bernardino Counties is not so fortunate. The Times reports that the volume of home sales in San Bernardino County dropped 18.3% from last June, and in Riverside County 14.7%. Similarly, jobs fell throughout the Inland Empire in sectors such as leisure and hospitality (minus 3,200 jobs in June) and educational and health services (minus 1,300 positions in June). Finally, the region lost 3,900 construction jobs over the year, and more than 75,000 since the peak of construction in June, 2006.

As part of the solution to this ongoing problem, the City of Ontario and County of San Bernardino have joined together to negotiate a return of Ontario International Airport (“ONT”), operated by the City of Los Angeles through its Airport Department, L.A. World Airports (“LAWA”) since 1967, to local control. ONT has, consistent with the condition of the local economy, seen an approximate 30% decrease in operations since 2007.
 


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Yet another project at Los Angeles International Airport (“LAX”) has skated under the requirements of the California Environmental Quality Act (“CEQA”). The project, the “American Airlines Commuter Facility Improvement Project,” allegedly constitutes a mere replacement of the facilities once occupied by United Airlines. Not exactly. The project actually includes, but is not limited to: (1) more than doubling the size of the passenger terminal/administration building to add passenger accommodations and office space; (2) addition of an almost 10,000 square foot building for baggage handling, office space and storage; and (3) replacement of a remote gate, accessed by foot or bus, with an enclosed contact gate such as those which are used inside the main terminals.

Despite the expansionary nature of the project, Los Angeles World Airports (“LAWA”), the Department of the owner, City of Los Angeles, responsible for operating LAX does not give so much as a passing nod to compliance with CEQA. If the project could simply be described as “new lease with American Airlines,” as a recent “Transmittal for Review of LAX Tenant Improvement Project” would have the public believe, the omission to conduct environmental review might be justified by a categorical exclusion from CEQA, 14 Cal. Code Regs. section 15301. That exclusion, however, does not apply here. The project, far from being “negligible” in scope, clearly constitutes a massive expansion of the previous passenger hold room and other passenger serving facilities.
 


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