Oakland International Airport- Port Authority Worried About Noise Lawsuits

Monday, October 24, 2005
Airport braces for noise lawsuits
Developer plans to build 100 houses in flight path; Port of Oakland wants protection against future complaints
By Paul T. Rosynsky
The Oakland (CA) Tribune

OAKLAND – A developer’s plan to build 100 homes in the flight path of planes using Oakland International Airport is undergoing additional scrutiny by Port of Oakland officials worried about future lawsuits. The Port’s Aviation Committee will discuss the plan today and attempt to persuade Harbor Bay Isle Associates to post a $1 million bond the port could use in the future to fight noise complaint lawsuits.

Harbor Bay Isle wants to build the houses along Harbor Bay Parkway on land where homes had been banned in the past. The land originally was supposed to be part of the Harbor Bay Business Park, but a slow office market and hot housing market changed the plans.

In addition, while the original agreement between the port and Harbor Bay Isle Associates also prohibited construction of public schools and libraries on the land, there was a loophole allowing construction of private schools.

Harbor Bay Isle Associates used the loophole to gain approval for construction of a private school on the land. As a result, the port agreed to amend its prohibitions because the Federal Aviation Administration said it would rather see homes with sound insulation on the land than a private school, said port Aviation Director Steve Grossman.

But the port wants to ensure it doesn’t get sued in the future.

Port officials had previously proposed a deal that would force Harbor Bay Isle Associates to build homes with the latest sound insulation technology, create a noise complaint office and agree that neither the company nor any homeowner association created after construction would sue the port.

Port commissioners, however, balked at that deal, pointing to a lawsuit filed by Alameda residents several years ago. To get around a similar deal then, those residents formed separate associations not connected to homeowners associations and sued.

“In the past, the legal challenges against airport developments were filed by unincorporated associations,” a port letter states. “The port would not be able to secure contribution for legal costs from HBIA if some third party, such as an unincorporated association, formed specifically to bring suit.”

To prepare for that situation, the port wants Harbor Bay Isle Associates to post a $1 million bond for the next 10 years. Should someone from the area sue the port for noise, the port can use the $1 million to fight the suit.

“If that happens, we get to draw from the $1 million,” Grossman said. “It is a significant amount of money that from our past experience with litigation should cover a large amount of the cost.”

Although port documents say Harbor Bay Isle Associates has agreed to extend its promise not to sue for 10 years and “build in assurances that all homeowners will acknowledge potential impacts,” its president refused to say Thursday what the company will do to appease the port.

“We are still in dialogue with them,” said Timothy Hoppin, president of Harbor Bay Isle Associates. “We are still talking to them to see exactly what they mean.”

Port Commissioner Frank Kiang, however, said it’s simple.

“We just think we should be extremely cautious. Before Bay Farm Island was ever built there was an understanding that the airport was there but that didn’t stop anyone,” he said.

“When you have more people living under the flight path there is going to be more complaints, common sense tells you that.”

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