Love's Labor Lost

The silence is deafening at City Hall over expanding Love Field, but Jim Schutze has some advice for airport neighbors: Buy earplugs.

Here we are at the wheel of a black SUV in the dark of night, splashing through dirt ruts in a driving rain, faking our way past sullen security guards--the height of derring-do, in other words--all of it in search of the fabled Lost Loza.

The Lost Loza? Come now. Search your heart; scan the deepest recesses of memory. You must confess that you know the Loza. First name John?

For years, John Loza, a two-term member of the Dallas City Council, was famous for his stout defense of the neighborhoods around Love Field, the city's aging inner-city commuter airport. Now on this foul night he is missing in action--disappeared from the neighborhood camps. There are even people who claim to have sighted him over on the other side of the trenches, consorting with the airlines.

Look out above: The city is projecting major growth at Love Field.
Look out above: The city is projecting major growth at Love Field.

Fortunately for us, some thoughtful soul has smuggled us an invitation we were not meant to have to an event about to take place here in the bowels of downtown. A scanner image of the invitation--which looks very elegant--was e-mailed to us as a file attachment. A century ago, a man in a top hat and cape might have poked out from around a smoky corner, extended an elegant card with gloved fingers, and whispered in an indistinct foreign accent, "Sir, if you want to know what happened to John Loza on the Love Field thing, attend this event." So now we get a file attachment. We'll work with what we have.

The point is, we must press on regardless and find the Loza. It's our duty. He could be in danger--held against his will! It is, after all, a dark and stormy night.

The thing with the airport is simple. You already know most of this or used to. Love Field Airport was the old one, before they built DFW. Once DFW opened on January 13, 1974, they were supposed to shut the old one down. But before they could scrape Love Field bare, Southwest Airlines came along in the mid '70s and launched a great business, selling jump seats on shuttle flights to Texas cities and beyond. It was enough to keep Love alive.

Throughout the 1980s, as Southwest's business grew and its planes got bigger, neighborhoods in the Love Field flight path fought bitterly for some kind of control over airplane noise. Love Field, after all, was built in the days of the old propellerized bumpety-bumps--planes that were about as noisy next to a modern jet as a baby stroller next to my sputtering SUV, which needs a new muffler.

Slowly but surely, the proponents of noise controls for Love Field persuaded city council members, legislators, and members of Congress that it was wrong to let the airport destroy surrounding neighborhoods. By the early '90s, the noise wars seemed over. Southwest agreed to a set of voluntary noise controls. People in the neighborhoods had been lulled into thinking that the fight was over and Love Field would never grow.

Pat White, a longtime noise activist from Bluffview, which is one of several affluent neighborhoods smack in the footprint of Love Field noise, calls the '90s "a period of equilibrium.

"Southwest had gone to all Stage 3 [quieter] aircraft, and they were using the [quieter] Trinity River departure path. These were all voluntary policies, and there were still problems to take care of, but basically everybody had signed off on it. The Love Field Noise Abatement Advisory Committee hadn't met for years.

"Then all of a sudden this year, all bets are off."

Way off. Early this year, the neighborhoods spied some typically uninformative stories in The Dallas Morning News, tipping them off that the city manager was whispering into the ears of the city council again about major growth at Love Field.

In midsummer, the city manager agreed to create a "task force" to discuss a new "masterplan" for the airport. The neighborhoods immediately hired former city council member Lori Palmer, the best-known pioneer of noise control in Dallas, to represent them on the task force. Palmer discovered that the city manager and consultants were talking in terms of "unconstrained demand" at Love Field leading to a potential growth in overall passenger traffic of 220 percent by the year 2020, with little or no regard for the environmental impacts.

The main impetus behind the staff's dire predictions of blowout growth at Love Field had been the advent of Legend, the feisty start-up airline that began offering fancy business-class service from Love Field last April. In theory, at least, the threat of expansion at Love should have expired when Legend, cash-strapped and unable to pay for jet fuel, grounded its fleet December 2. But it's hard to find anyone who believes Legend's bankruptcy has squelched the prospect of major airport growth once and for all.

From the neighborhoods' point of view, the events of the last year have made Love Field a problem again. Making it not a problem will take more than the extinction of one small airline.

In the dining room of a beautifully restored house in Oak Lawn, Becky Stannard, another pioneer of noise control, is trying to explain to me how debilitating it was to discover that the noise dragon was poking its nose out of the cave again. "It's very discouraging to devote all of these years of effort and fight these difficult battles in Dallas and then always eventually lose them."

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