JetBlue has entered into a new agreement with the city prosecutor's office that will increase the fines paid by the airline.
The next time JetBlue Airlines violates the city’s noise ordinance it will cost a little bit more as the airline and the Long Beach city prosecutor’s office have agreed to increase the level of fines under its consent decree after months of late-night flights by JetBlue.
Under the new agreement, every time JetBlue lands or takes off after 11:00PM and before 7:00AM it will cost the airline $6,000. Previously, the first six violations of this type triggered a fine of $3,000 with every violation after that in the same quarter being charged at the $6,000 rate. The change was made effective July 1.
Through July, JetBlue has registered nearly 160 of these types of violations with its fine total rising to nearly $800,000, all of which has been donated to the Long Beach Public Library Foundation, a non-profit that supports the city’s library system.
“I hope increasing the amount JetBlue pays will have the effect of reducing violations,” Long Beach City Prosecutor Doug Haubert said in an email. “The goal is not to raise money for any charity, the goal is to deter Noise Ordinance violations. JetBlue representatives say they understand the problem with late night noise and I personally believe they are sincere and will redouble their efforts to reduce violations. I will be watching very carefully to see if there is any noticeable change in the late night patterns we've seen in recent years.”
JetBlue has already surpassed the number of consent decree violations this year—158 flights have landed or taken off between the 11:00PM-7:00AM window through July—than it had all of last year when it registered 127. It’s also on pace to eclipse the fine totals of both 2016 ($618,000) and 2015 ($366,000) if it does not remedy the recent pattern of late night flight activity at LGB.
Philip Stewart, a corporate communications manager at JetBlue, said that late flights at Long Beach are often the result of air traffic control issues at other more busy airports that alter flight times in and out of Long Beach.
"We build our flight schedule to adhere to the noise ordinance and make every effort to respect that while ensuring our customers arrive safely to their destination," Stewart said. "When a flight operates beyond the curfew time, it’s often due to air traffic control related issues at some of the busiest airports on the east coast and in northern California. JetBlue is working with elected officials to mitigate these instances and is a strong supporter of Air Traffic Control (ATC) reform."
A second update to the consent decree includes the library foundation also signing on to allow the auditing of its expenses upon request from Haubert’s office. Since 2003, the funds collected through the consent decree with JetBlue have been given to the foundation and then funneled into the city’s library system. However, the funds are only meant to be spent on books, publications, online databases and family learning centers, not employee compensation.
While Haubert said that there was no concern that the funds weren’t being spent in the correct manner, the idea of an auditing agreement was brought to his attention by the city auditor’s office which had inquired whether a system was in place to verify how that money was being spent. He said that while those at the foundation have “great integrity” and would have volunteered to open their books without the decree, now they’re legally bound to do so and that having this agreement is the right thing for public interest.
“The issue was that the Library Foundation was under no legal obligation to follow that direction or to provide records if an accounting was requested,” Haubert said. “I felt that, as a condition of receiving Consent Decree funds, the Library Foundation should be legally committed to both of these things, and the Library Foundation was agreeable to this.”
Last month the city’s airport advisory commission had stalled discussions on a request to Haubert’s office to examine if the funds could be redirected to a different entity in the city, possibly to the neighborhoods that are under the flight paths of the airport. The commission voted to halt action on the request to Haubert’s office until he could be present at a future meeting to advise them on the potential ramifications of redirecting the fine revenue.
The library foundation, through fines collected through the consent decree, will more than double the budget for materials at city libraries this year with the nearly $800,000 collected this year surpassing the approximately $677,000 allocated to the types of materials consent decree funds are allowed to be spent on. The proposed total budget for the city’s library system for the next fiscal year is about $14.2 million.
[Editors note: This story has been updated to include comments from JetBlue.]