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Livermore council approves long-debated new airport development policy

Members direct city attorney to research additional consequences for noise violators
A plane makes its approach into the Livermore Municipal Airport.

Despite several requests to further delay its final decision on the Livermore Municipal Airport's new development policy, the City Council voted Monday to approve the document that has been a source of heated debate throughout the southern Tri-Valley for months.

The council previously held off on a vote at its June 26 meeting, directing staff to make some revisions to the proposal after a lengthy discussion and public comment period.

The draft document returned to the council as part of the July 10 meeting agenda where another extensive conversation took place and several speakers echoed previous concerns about noise, pollution and eliminating the use of leaded fuel, among other issues that they believe are not adequately addressed in the now-approved policy.

The purpose of the new policy is to establish a clear, defined process to allow proper review and approval of proposed development at the airport, according to city officials, who worked with the Aviation Management Consulting Group to create the initial draft of the document.

Although city staff worked on the policy for nearly a year and it underwent several rounds of revisions even just in the last few months, many residents urged the council to delay its vote and take more time to address their concerns.

Councilmember Ben Barrientos was the only one on the dais who agreed with requests to continue the discussion to a later date and proposed pushing it out to the next regular council meeting. Subsequently, he was the only dissenter when his colleagues decided to move ahead with a vote Monday night.

Councilmember Evan Branning reiterated during the meeting that the development policy ensures that the city has a choice in what is built at the airport, which he said is an improvement from the "general and vague" rules that they were previously guided by.

"I understand that there are people who are going to be upset by us moving forward with the development policy; however, the policy gives us more control over what will be at the airport than what will happen if a determined developer comes in and goes through the FAA to try to force the issue," Branning said.

"So when I hear calls asking for us to continue this item for months, I believe that opens us up to exposure. I believe what we have in this policy is something that really gives us the opportunity to choose what we build at the airport," he added.

Branning also emphasized that the newly approved policy is focused on development and many of the concerns raised by the community fall under other areas such as operations and facilities, which are separate issues.

Councilmember Bob Carling echoed similar sentiments as Branning about the policy being an upgrade from what they had a year ago and not wanting to delay the decision further. However, he suggested changing some verbiage in statements within the document to be more direct and less "wishy-washy". 

Carling's grammatical changes were included as part of the motion to approve the policy along with approval for the city manager to fix typographical errors found within the document.

Vice Mayor Brittni Kiick noted in her comments, among other points, that noise is a risk of purchasing a home near an airport. 

"Regarding noise, I get it. They fly over my house too. But if you were misled in a purchasing decision about buying a house next to an airport and thought maybe it wasn't going to be loud, I'd have a talk with your Realtor about that," she said. "It just doesn't really make a lot of sense to assume that we can force planes to be quiet."

After approving the policy, the council took a separate vote proposed by Mayor John Marchand directing the city attorney to research potential tools that the city can use to ensure compliance with the airport operations such as the possibility of terminating a lease agreement for frequent violators of noise guidelines and the potential for fines for low-flying aircraft.

A full recording of Monday's meeting is available here.

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