JetBlue, Long Beach Airport’s main tenant, has racked up hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines over the past few years for violating the city’s noise ordinance.
UPDATE | After a brief discussion the Long Beach Airport Advisory Commission voted to postpone action on a proposal that would’ve asked the city prosecutor’s office to explore the feasibility of shifting late arrival fines assessed to airlines away from the Long Beach Public Library Foundation.
In a 6-0 vote, the commission decided to table the matter until City Prosecutor Doug Haubert, a former member of the AAC, could brief them in person at a future meeting on the potential ramifications of amending the consent decree that JetBlue entered into with the his office in 2003.
Commissioner Jeff Rowe, who introduced the item, had likened the current setup to the late fees at the library being distributed to the airport. He had advocated for the fines to potentially be distributed to those affected most by the late arriving planes, those residents that live nearest to Long Beach Airport.
“It’s not that the library and all the things they do aren’t wonderful,” Rowe said. “But I don’t see the logic in taking money from one problem, ignoring that, and using it on another problem.”
Ultimately, any amendment to the consent decree must be hammered out between JetBlue and Haubert’s office, but the commission seemed open to asking him to do that.
Margaret Smith, former president of the Long Beach Public Library Foundation, spoke in favor of keeping the funding model as is, as the money generated from the fines helps to buy programming and other materials that the library currently does not have adequate funding for.
Smith promised that the foundation and the many Long Beach Library system users would be vocal advocates to keep things the way they are at any future discussions regarding the matter.
“Our library, and the services that they provide are life changing,” Smith said of the many opportunities the libraries provide to underprivileged in the city.
Due to an uptick in late arrivals by JetBlue, which under the consent decree is characterized by flights leaving or landing between 11:00PM and 7:00AM, the library system is on track to receive over $1 million in additional funding this year.
One Fourth District resident spoke to that increase, stating that the real issue is not the destination of the fine money, but the fact that the city has to continue to issue fines in the first place.
“The problem is not that the fines are going to the library, the problem is that JetBlue is violating the noise ordinance, and continues to violate the noise ordinance almost nightly,” he said. “That’s the problem. While I appreciate your willingness to try and help the victims, the way to help the victims is to make JetBlue follow the law.”
Haubert is expected to appear before the commission at a future meeting where it’s expected to take action by either forwarding or rescinding a request for his office to seek out the feasibility of redirecting the fine revenue.
PREVIOUSLY: City Prosecutor Could Examine New Home For Noise Ordinance Fine Revenue After Airport Advisory Commission Vote
7/20/17 at 1:24PM | Since 2015, when JetBlue formally requested an international terminal be built at Long Beach Airport, the funds collected through consent decrees—agreements between airlines and the city prosecutors office to avoid going to trial for habitually violating the city’s airport noise ordinance—have steadily risen with this year’s total already sitting near $640,000.
Thursday night, the city’s Airport Advisory Commission will consider whether to ask the city prosecutor’s office to consider the feasibility of rethinking where those funds go.
The fines are collected and distributed to the Long Beach Public Library Foundation (LBPLF) which has been the benefactor of the consent decree between the prosecutor’s office and JetBlue in particular since it was signed in 2003.
The fines are levied for flights that arrive after 11:00PM and before 7:00AM and can range between $3,000 and $6,000 depending on how many violations have occurred in a month.
As of April, the last month that the Long Beach Airport posted noise statistics on its website, there were 78 such violations by JetBlue and one by American/Mesa Airlines reflecting a nearly 42 percent increase from the same time in 2016.
Since 2014, JetBlue has accounted for over 80 percent of all air carrier noise violations, representing nearly 84 percent of those recorded through April.
The airport collected a total of $86,000 in fines during April, bringing the annual total (from January to April) to over $399,000, an increase of $120,000 over last year during the same time period.
Fourth District Councilman Daryl Supernaw regularly shares these types of violations in his weekly newsletter sent out to his constituents and typically outpaces the airport reports by a few months. In his July 7 newsletter, Supernaw shared that JetBlue had accrued a “record breaking” $168,900 in fines for the month of June, bringing its 2017 total to $639,900.
At only halfway through the year, that 2017 figure has already eclipsed the total dollars collected in 2016 ($618,000) and 2015 ($366,000). JetBlue has nearly surpassed the total of flights flown in 2016 between 11:00PM and 7:00AM (133) with it’s total this year sitting at 127.
“It has become painfully obvious, especially to those living under the flight path, that our ‘coveted’ noise ordinance is not serving its intended purpose,” Supernaw stated in his newsletter. “This clearly indicates the fine structure is not an adequate deterrent to violating the curfew. For that reason, I will be introducing a city council agenda item in the very near future to examine this issue.”
Unchanged since 1995, Long Beach has one of the most stringent noise ordinances in the country, but any change to the ordinance could open the door to it losing its grandfather status and the airport falling under federal regulation. That includes the amount that the city is able to fine to the offending airlines, but not where those collected fines are distributed.
“The destination of the fines under alternative enforcement (I.e., criminal prosecution) are not a specific part of the ordinance at all but more a matter of agreement (consent) between the air carrier violator and the [City Prosecutor’s] office,” Assistant City Attorney Michael Mais said in an email.
However, a change to where the funds would go could require an alteration to the consent decree that would entail the two parties agreeing to the amendment and potentially having it signed off by a judge.
City Prosecutor Doug Haubert, a former member of the Airport Advisory Commission, said that the noise ordinance is one of the most valuable protections the city’s residents have in terms of protecting the quality of life of those that live in and around the airport flight paths.
He noted that the periodic extensions of the current consent decree does not require court approval, but a change to it, like redirecting the funds from the library foundation to another entity in the city, could.
“Any change to a consent decree would require approval from the parties to the consent decree, approval from the court would depend on what kind of changes the parties wanted to make,” Haubert said. “It’s too early to tell if changes to the consent decree would require court approval.”
The impact that a diversion of funds from the library foundation could have on the city’s library system could be dire, as the foundation relays those dollars to individual branches throughout the city.
Kate Azar, executive director of the library foundation, said that because the money collected from JetBlue cannot be used for staffing purposes, the money is dedicated to materials and supplies.
While the library services budget for the 2016-2017 fiscal year is over $12 million, she said only about $677,000 of that goes toward materials, a sum that JetBlue’s consent decree fines will likely pass this month. A city this big, she said, should have a materials budget of $1.2 million to $2 million.
“We’d lose a huge chunk of our budget if those funds went to another entity,” Azar said. “About a third to a half of the library’s materials budget would be lost.”
Azar said that the funds don’t just go toward books and magazines, but also buy materials like online resources, apps that allow downloads of free e-books and audio books, free tutoring programs, resumé and job search services and other professional development tools.
“People are really using these services and the library would really take a major hit in what it’s able to provide to communities if it loses these funds,” Azar said.
She noted that the LBPLF doesn’t depend on, and the library does not budget for the contributions made through the consent decree but the funds do help balance the budget.
The Airport Advisory Commission meets Thursday at 4:00PM at Skylinks Municipal Golf Course located at 4800 E. Wardlow Road.