Prosecutor’s proposal to increase JetBlue noise fines mutually approved

Audits to be conducted on library foundation funds

Denny Cristales | Signal Tribune
Last week, Long Beach City Prosecutor Doug Haubert announced that JetBlue has agreed to a proposal that would increase consent-decree fines for late-night flight violations of the Long Beach Airport Noise Ordinance, beginning with the current quarter of 2017, from $3000 to $6000.

Long Beach City Prosecutor Doug Haubert announced last week that JetBlue has agreed to his proposal to increase consent-decree fines for late-night flights– starting with the current quarter of 2017, which began in July– from $3,000 to $6,000 per violation.

The change is the first time the decree has been modified since its inception in 2003. Originally, JetBlue would pay $3,000 for each violation of the Long Beach Airport Noise Ordinance in a quarter– with a limit of six violations– and then it would pay $6,000 for each additional violation within that same time frame.

The change proposal sets the violation to a flat fee of $6,000.

The modification to the noise ordinance and its consent-decree fine is a result of a trend in recent quarters that sees an increase in JetBlue’s late-night flights, according to Haubert.

“Ultimately, I think JetBlue is making efforts, but I want to make sure that we are doing everything we can to disincentivize violations of the law,” Haubert said in a phone interview Monday, adding that he believes financial sanctions are an effective motivator. “These are criminal violations of the law, and they should not be taken lightly. I’m not saying JetBlue is taking them lightly– I’m just saying that we need to make sure there are effective deterrents.”

Haubert admitted the fine increase was not a perfect solution, but he believed that it is currently the best option when considering the interests of the city and the flying public. He said the recent trend in the increased noise pollution at the airport warrants a thorough discussion on what else can be done to improve compliance with the mandate.

“I think the best outcome would be to keep the noise ordinance in place and to strictly enforce its provisions so that people are not flying in late constantly, which does dramatically and negatively impact the quality of life for the residents that live near the airport,” he said. “If there’s a way to strike a balance, I think that’s what everyone wants to do.”

The consent-decree renewal will expire on June 30, 2018. Haubert said if the fine increase does not appear to impact JetBlue’s noise-pollution trend, then “obviously all options would be on the table,” including criminal prosecution. He added that airlines, including JetBlue in 2003, have been prosecuted in the past.

“But, I’m hoping the number of violations decrease,” he said. “It’s not my goal to prosecute any airline; my goal is to achieve compliance within these laws.”

Haubert said he is planning to speak to the Airport Advisory Commission (AAC) at its meeting next month to specifically address the prosecution of airlines and airport operators who violate City rules, the background of the noise ordinance and prosecution efforts in the past and details of what would happen if a criminal case were filed.

“We have a unique airport here in Long Beach,” Haubert said. “It’s a great asset, but it also happens to be located close to single-family neighborhoods that have been established a long time. And when a new airline comes in, it has to comply with rules that we have in place. No one questions JetBlue’s value to the city, but people do question whether or not it’s possible for them to comply with the rules that they accepted when they came to Long Beach.”

In addition to the consent-decree amendment, audits will now be conducted on the airport noise-ordinance funds that go to the Long Beach Library Foundation, per an agreement between Haubert and the foundation.

JetBlue has made the noise-ordinance violation payments to the foundation since 2003, when the decree was established. The mandate specifies that the contributions must only be used on books, publications, online databases and family learning centers.

It was recently discovered that the library foundation was not a signee on the decree, and, thus, was not legally obligated to spend the funds in the suggested manner. City Auditor Laura Doud reached out to Haubert regarding the matter.

The library foundation “happily agreed” to sign an agreement.

“I don’t think anyone in 2003 thought that the consent decree would still be going on 14 years later,” Haubert said. “And the initial agreement was between the city prosecutor and JetBlue. The library foundation didn’t sign the agreement and, therefore, never agreed to be bound by the terms that were reached by JetBlue and the city prosecutor.”

A formal agreement has now been put in place to ensure the library foundation’s funds would be used for the specified items, Haubert added.

“I thought it was prudent to ensure that the library foundation used the money for the intended purpose, and I also thought it was important to have a mechanism to verify the expenditures are proper,” he said. “The library foundation staff and its board members have always been forthcoming and agreeable to sharing information, but I thought an agreement in place would provide more transparency and more accountability to the entire process.”

Operating away from Haubert’s proposals is the City of Long Beach’s plan to amend curfew violations for all airliners at Long Beach Airport (LGB).

LGB is beginning a public process to consider amending curfew regulations for airlines, according to a City of Long Beach press release on Aug. 10. The press release stated the decision to adjust the regulations were based on recommendations from the airport staff, city attorney’s office, outside legal counsel and preliminary discussions with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to encourage compliance and reduce infractions.

In an email on Tuesday, Stephanie Montuya-Morisky, public affairs officer with LGB, said the goal of the amendments is to further minimize the number of departure- and arrival-time violations at LGB to aid in reducing the noise pollution.

Airliners have tallied a total of 119 infractions from January to June this year, specifically between the nighttime hours of 11pm and 7am, per airport data provided in the press release. An additional 14 violations have occurred from 10pm to 11pm.

In her email, Montuya-Morisky said the proposed amendments to solve the curfew problem would:

• Increase the fine structure and target repeat violators by progressively increasing fine amounts to be more in line with fines at other curfew airports in the region
• Authorize the airport director to require the return of allocated air-carrier flight slots in the case of excessive and repeated noise violations
• Modify the minimum flight slot-use regulations to require increased utilization
• Make other updates and changes to modernize the ordinance, while ensuring that the City maintains its grandfathered status under the federal Airport Noise and Capacity Act (ANCA)

“The airlines have been sent notices of the proposed amendments,” Montuya-Morisky said in an email to the Signal Tribune. “We have not received official response. [Long Beach] Airport will also engage further with the airlines, participate in community outreach, work with the City Attorney’s Office and outside legal counsel and communicate with the FAA on planned amendments before the adaptations to the noise ordinance are complete.”

More information on the City of Long Beach’s proposed amendments to Long Beach Airport curfew regulations can be found at bit.ly/LGBNoise.
Monthly reports for all airliners and their data trends as they relate to the Long Beach Airport Noise Ordinance can be found at lgb.org/information/noise_abatement/monthlyreport.asp. Further data on noise-ordinance trends can be found under section 16.43.040 at bit.ly/2uJxQ4t.

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