Newport Beach residents are "finishing up the second lap" in the proverbial mile-long race toward a new John Wayne Airport settlement, City Manager Dave Kiff told a crowd of residents Wednesday night at a Speak Up Newport forum.
The event was at the Newport Beach Yacht Club, where Kiff discussed ways that the city and residents can work toward curbing the airport's impacts on the community.
While officials hope that much of the legwork in renegotiating a new agreement, which could lock in the airport's strict noise restrictions for the next 20 years, is complete, the deal now faces a long environmental review process under the county's supervision.
Through the California Environmental Quality Act process, the public will be able to comment on the proposed plan and other options before the current settlement expires in 2015.
The terms of a possible settlement, keeping in place the airport's curfews until 2035 and allowing incremental annual passenger cap increases starting in 2021, have been approved for review by both the county and the city.
"Now how confusing is that?" Kiff joked.
If the deal does go through as negotiated by Stop Polluting Our Newport, Airport Working Group, the city of Newport Beach and the county of Orange in an original 1985 settlement, he stressed, "This extension still gives us the most restricted airport in the country."
Passenger traffic, Kiff said, has been growing by about 6% annually — but that hasn't been enough to overtake the current 10.8 million annual passenger limit.
Kiff added that keeping the curfew in place, which prevents commercial planes from taking off before 7 a.m. and after 10 p.m. most days, would be a particular coup, because, he said, "trust me, carriers would like to get out earlier than 7 o'clock."
The airport, in many cases, caters to business travelers heading east on weekday mornings, he said.
But the settlement isn't the only aspect of the airport's operation that the city works with other agencies to manage, Kiff said.
By managing land use outside the airport's boundaries, he said, city officials believe they have what would amount to veto power in a decision over whether runways can be built or expanded.
Kathy Harrison, Speak Up Newport's vice president, said the idea appealed to her.
"Right down the middle is what we want," she said.