When the city of Long Beach throws the book at airlines that violate its noise limits, the hefty fines end up buying books for city libraries and funding other charitable activities.
The latest airline to face a fine is Michigan-based cargo hauler Kalitta Charters. This week it agreed to pay $54,000 to settle 13 criminal noise complaints.
Long Beach City Prosecutor Doug Haubert says the money will go to the Long Beach Community Foundation.
"They've told me they intend to spend the money to benefit the people who live in the flight path," Haubert said.
Four airlines have been fined for violating the Long Beach noise ordinance since 2003.
JetBlue has paid the most — more than $4 million since 2003. That money goes to the nonprofit Long Beach Public Library Foundation. From there it's handed over to the city-run library system, divided among the 12 sites and spent on books and materials, said library spokeswoman Susan Jones.
JetBlue paid between $50,000 and $650,000 annually, depending on the number of violations its planes incurred. The airline paid $300,000 in 2014, according to a city prosecutor's report. Each of the first six violations in a year costs $3,000 while subsequent violations are billed at $6,000, and the airline can rack up hundreds of violations in a single year.
The airport is not allowed to kick out a passenger airline like JetBlue — however, a violator that carries cargo, like Kalitta, could face expulsion if it continues to violate the city's noise limits of 102.5 decibels per flight during the day or 79 decibels per flight at night, Haubert said.
A 1990 federal law bars cities from imposing noise limits around airports — but Long Beach lobbied Congress for an exemption and kept its noise law intact. Haubert says funneling the money to nonprofits is meant to keep the noise law from becoming a cash cow for the city.
Long Beach is unique in having a limit on noise levels that may be enforced by local authorities bringing criminal charges, he said.
Noise has generated complaints from neighborhoods around many Southern California airports. Some, like Burbank's Bob Hope Airport, have curfews and flight path restrictions to limit noise reaching homes. Residents in Santa Monica have been trying to close Santa Monica Airport for years.