UPDATE: City Raises the Stakes with FAA's NextGen Nightmare

Apr18Nextgen

 In 2017 two letters were sent to Michael P. Huerta, the Administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regarding their NextGen program.  One from Senator Dianne Feinstein and the other from Los Angeles City Council President Herb J. Wesson CD10 along with Council Members Marqueese Harris-Dawson District 8 and Mike Bonin District 11.

In both letters complaints were made outlining the serious problems the FAA program NextGen had brought upon communities throughout the state and in Los Angeles.  They also shared the deep distress they were hearing from their constituents which included the documented and unprecedented increase in noise complaints as a direct result of the narrowing of the flight paths resulting in one plane after another flying at low altitudes over residents' heads. Both letters made requests for meetings, solutions and dialogue.
The requests were ignored.  

In January 2018 the LAX Roundtable (a group of residents and officials who meet monthly and act as a liaison between the community and the airport) sent a sharply worded rebuke to the FAA outlining the many efforts they had made to work with the FAA who continually dismissed and ignored the Roundtable's efforts. The FAA ignored that letter too. 


Local activists, who had witnessed the lack of respect and dismissive attitudes FAA officials had shown when confronted by communities throughout the nation, were not surprised when the FAA ignored these letters from community leaders and community groups. It was apparent that only lawsuits seemed to make the FAA sit up and pay attention, as shown in Phoenix and other communities like Newport Beach, Laguna Beach, Laguna Niguel, Santa Cruz and Culver City. 

So local activists and residents sat up and cheered when City Council President Herb Wesson, leading the charge, along with Council Members Marqueese Harris-Dawson and Mike Bonin released another sharply worded letter to the FAA's Michael P. Huerta, once again outlining the serious concerns of a city besieged by the NextGen program. But this time the letter was drafted by City Attorney Mike Feuer. Previously, Mayor Garcetti (who did not sign the letter and was not included in the list of people cc’d) responded to questions posed by local activists by stating that legal action against the FAA was not an option.  So the involvement of the City Attorney in the recent effort to get the FAA’s attention seem to indicate that City Council members were willing to step up and double down on the notoriously intransigent FAA. Was this the opening salvo of a more serious confrontation with the FAA? 

During the week of March 30, West Adams for Quiet Skies Facebook readers had two reasons to cheer.  

Culver City had previously filed a lawsuit against the FAA in 2016 and after court ordered efforts to negotiate between the two fell apart, Culver City continued with its lawsuit.  Activists had advocated for the City of Los Angeles to either file its own lawsuit or file an Amicus brief supporting the Culver City lawsuit. Amicus briefs are legal documents filed in court cases by non-litigants with a strong interest in the subject matter in order to support the arguments made by the litigant . The briefs advise the court of relevant, additional information or arguments that the court might wish to consider.

Los Angeles may not have the ability to sue because they did not meet the legal requirements which include a deadline before which a lawsuit can be filed (not met) along with the requirement for the litigant to have participated during the window the FAA opened for public comments prior to implementation. Communities were not adequately notified by the City or the FAA.  Although Los Angeles did not meet these requirements, Culver City did and quickly filed a lawsuit.  June Lehrman, a Culver City resident, was instrumental in steering the effort and was recently honored by the Culver City Council for her work at the LAX Noise roundtable.  If the City was unwilling or unable to file a lawsuit, then West Adams activists were advocating for Los Angeles to at least file an amicus brief in support of the Culver City lawsuit. 

First reason to cheer?  It appears as if the letter was an opening salvo. Soon after the letter to Huerta, Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer filed an amicus brief supporting the Culver City lawsuit and submitted just before the deadline.   

Second reason to cheer? West Adams activist Jim Mangia, President and CEO of St. John's Well Child and Family Center, resident of the Avenues and untiring, aggressive advocate for health issues, engaged attorney Mitchell Tsai (whose services are being funded through community donations. See info at end of article) to represent the interests of the West Adams for Quiet Skies community. Mr. Tsai was faced with a problem. Since nobody in West Adams had participated in the required comments period prior to the implementation of NextGen (the community had not been adequately alerted to the issue by the city) there was nobody in West Adams who had standing to sue.

The problem was resolved when the West Adams for Quiet Skies board, made up of Jim Mangia, Dianne V. Lawrence, Michelle Anyanwu Quach and Gavin Abercrombie agreed to give Mr. Tsai the go-ahead to represent Culver City resident, Stephen Murray, who had made comments and had standing to sue along with Culver City. In his comments Mr. Murray had echoed the concerns raised by Jim Mangia and Mr. Tsai specifically addressing health effects. The Culver City lawsuit along with the suit brought by Mr. Murray was filed the same week as the Los Angele’s amicus brief. A one-two punch. 


Meanwhile official representatives from office of Karen Bass and City Council Members Herb Wesson, Mike Bonin and Marqueese Harris-Dawson, began meeting with the FAA’s TRACON, the air traffic control station in San Diego, in order to understand their part in the problem. Two meetings resulted in what they believe is a sincere effort on the part of TRACON senior officials to take the issue seriously and direct resources towards a more detailed investigation into the reasons why planes are flying at such low altitudes, often around 4,000 feet and some as low as 2,500. 

Strangely, FAA TRACON officials couldn't answer "why." The investigation, which will look at a month of flights and the factors that determined the choices made for low altitudes, will hopefully bring clarity and point to possible solutions. They did make the point that departing planes occupy the 8,000 foot-high airspace making impossible the dream of getting arriving flights up to 8,000 feet over our community.  Activists would argue this point and wonder why they can’t simply raise the altitude of the departing planes claiming the law requires only 1,000 feet between planes.  Other activists express concern that raising altitudes, unless they were extremely high, will still not solve the relentless sound of planes overhead and that fanning the flights and eliminating the higway is the real and only solution.   


So the Culver City lawsuit has been filed, West Adams is represented in the lawsuit, the City of Los Angeles has filed an amicus brief supporting the lawsuit and elected officials are talking to the FAA which has expressed a sincere desire to help.  

A cautious light flickers at the end of the long tunnel, and the community is thankful for the efforts of the many and especially the efforts of Council President Herb Wesson, his aide Jeff Camp and his work along with local resident Michael Salmon on the LAX Roundtable, and the generous efforts of local resident activists who refuse to sit still and have researched, organized and kept each other informed and engaged with their representatives.     

But the community cannot breathe easy yet. The court has yet to decide to allow the City Attorney’s amicus brief, the Culver City lawsuit arguments have not been scheduled, and despite TRACON's apparent sincere concern, it has yet to be determined if they are willing to offer real solutions.   Continued efforts from all, including the relentless efforts of our community activists and elected officials (which will hopefully finally include the weight of Mayor Garcetti and Senator Kamala Harris) seem essential now that we see that some at the FAA have finally begun to pay attention.  

Quiet Skies Action Network Update:  The Quiet Skies Action Network is made up of over 100 residents like yourself (if you are still reading then you are concerned about this issue) who are willing to join forces in sending out a group email, make a phone call.  It allows you to feel like you are doing something without having to do heavy lifting. We encourage you to join. It is much more effective if we act in numbers.  Currently some members have agreed to do some door to door petitioning and the Action Committee has also created an online petition. We encourage you to go and sign,  Here are ways you can take action..... for ongoing information West Adams Quiet Skies Facebook page also:

QUIET SKIES ONLINE PETITION     https://goo.gl/forms/7Lif1Jx702dMcNFz1

TO JOIN THE ACTION NETWORK

  Email - This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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Established in August of 2008 by writerartist Dianne V. Lawrence, The Neighborhood News covers the events, people, history, politics and historic architecture of communities throughout the Mid-City and West Adams area in Los Angeles Council District 10.

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