Community members denounce plan for moving LAX north runway
By Helga Gendell
Local residents showed up en masse, with standing room only for the well over 400 attendees, to protest a proposed plan by Los Angeles World Airports to move the northernmost runway at Los Angeles International Airport 260 feet closer toward the Westchester community.
The public hearing for the Specific Plan Amendment Study (SPAS) was held at the Proud Bird Restaurant near LAX Jan. 8, and saw many audience members angry and vehemently opposing the proposal, which calls for separating the two northern runways by a center taxiway.
Residents cited a 2010 NASA/academic panel study that stated the LAX northern airfield was extremely safe and did not require reconfiguration. They also maintained that noise and air pollution, as well as increased traffic would be even more detrimental to the community.
Diego Alvarez, the project director of SPAS, said that moving the runway by 260 feet was a compromise over a recommendation by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to move it 350 feet north.
Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa signed a campaign pledge when he ran for office in 2005, stating he would not advocate for that runway relocation, but he has not stated publicly for some time whether he still supports that view. The Argonaut contacted his press secretary, Vicki Curry, and inquired about a statement on the Mercury Air Group’s website pertaining to the mayor’s position on moving the north runway.
The article on the website, by Mercury chair and CEO Joe Czyzyk, was titled, “Mercury CEO Addresses Chilean Business Leaders during L.A. Mayor’s Trade Mission to Chile.” In the article, Czyzyk spoke about the many improvements coming to LAX, stating, “And while the new Tom Bradley International Terminal will be among one of our mayor’s greatest accomplishments, he is also going to make sure that LAX’s north runway is moved to accommodate the newest generation of aircraft. And that’s important because LAX today has six daily A-380 flights and more A-380s, 787s, and 747-8 flights are coming.”
Curry said that Villaraigosa stands behind his campaign pledge of not moving the northern runway, and said that Czyzyk had been “joking” when he wrote the comment.
A resident of Playa del Rey, Czyzyk is also affiliated with the new organization, Coalition to Fix LAX Now and is the past chairman of the board of the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce. He said he supports Alternative 1 of the SPAS, proposed by LAWA staff. He also stated that a recent survey, released by Coalition to Fix LAX Now, indicates that 74 percent of municipal voters favor separating the runways by 260 feet.
A number of speakers at the public hearing, some from Westchester and Playa del Rey, said they had not been contacted by the pollsters, and had not even been aware that a poll had been conducted. Some expressed anger that they would be excluded from something so important to them. The poll didn’t consider voters in Culver City, El Segundo, Inglewood, or other cities that had opposed projects at LAX that might increase the airport’s geographic reach.
The poll, taken by the Culver City firm of Goodwin Simon Strategic Research, conducted the telephone survey of 1,876 likely Los Angeles municipal election voters in all council districts throughout the city of Los Angeles. Goodwin then conducted an additional 1,275 interviews to reach approximately 200 per council district (300 in District 11). The survey was conducted in English and Spanish between Dec. 26 and 30. There were five findings by Goodwin, and all except one, regarding connecting LAX to a light rail system, related to movement of the runway.
Goodwin said that “when voters heard that moving the runway will reduce the chances of a collision by up to 50 percent, will protect jobs, and will not be paid for by taxpayers, the consensus grew even stronger.” One of those findings stated that “51 percent to 5 percent of voters prefer a candidate for mayor or City Council who favors moving the runway over one who opposes it, even after hearing the views of the opponents.”
One Playa del Rey resident told The Argonaut, “So they ask people in other council districts all over the city if the airport should be improved, and the runway moved. That’s like Westchester and Playa del Rey residents advocating for a Metro Line in downtown Pasadena because we think it might be convenient for everyone else. There’s no knowledge or understanding of what impacts that would have in either case. Not only that, they’re trying to influence the City Council and mayoral races by asking that last question. That’s political wheeling and dealing as far as I’m concerned, and it’s all about the money, not the safety, since the 2010 NASA/academic panel study found the northern airfield to be safe.”
Union representatives also spoke at the hearing, saying they supported Alternative 1, which recommends shifting the runway 260 feet north. Some of the employees at LAX, who live both nearby and in areas such as Montebello, said they support Alternative 1 because they work at LAX and jobs are needed. They also spoke about modernizing the airport, saying it would bring thousands of jobs.
Playa del Rey resident Dianne Callahan told The Argonaut that she had also written a letter to the Board of Airport Commissioners. In her letter, she is encouraging the Airport Commission to adopt Alternatives 2 and 9, which do not involve relocating the northern runway.
“There is no safety issue at stake, which was the primary and sole reason for considering this plan. The plan puts unimaginable stresses on the local environment and neighborhood in terms of added pollution and noise levels. This has been well documented but denied by LAWA,” she claimed.
Callahan said that “common fiscal sense dictates that this is an enormously expensive plan with little if any net gain for the function of the airport. The estimate for moving the runway is at best $715 million versus $205 million for Alternative 2, which achieves the ultimate goal of modernizing the airport. The real question is who is going to benefit from this extravagant and quite nonsensical plan?”
She noted that the goal is to modernize the airport and make it more inviting to visitors. “How will they recognize the benefit of spending $715 million on a runway at the expense of all the other desperately needed improvements, and what has happened to regionalization?”
Another local resident told The Argonaut that while the local community supports the workers at LAX, most of the jobs created would be related to the north runway project if it is approved. She said it might take several years and an increase in costs for other projects to begin, if there were still funds available at that time.
Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Westchester) of the 43rd Congressional District, which includes LAX, told the audience that she has always opposed any runway reconfiguration into the community and continues to do so, adding that she stands strongly with the community on its concerns. Waters said she spoke with LAWA Executive Director Gina Marie Lindsey about jobs and supporting organized labor, and acknowledges that LAX is a major economic engine in the region.
“People who live and work here must have a quality of life, and that is a first priority, considering noise and air pollution,” the congresswoman said.
Waters also said that the community needs to be able to trust LAWA, and asked about the relationship between the Los Angeles Planning Department and LAWA. She noted that if LAWA is paying the Planning Department, an independent decision is needed, and called for additional public hearings on the subject.
BOAC will meet in approximately one month to discuss and vote on the SPAS, according to LAWA spokeswoman Nancy Castles.
City Councilman Bill Rosendahl, who represents the 11th District, was unable to attend the meeting, but reiterated that he has always been opposed to moving the northern runway, which would signify expansion. He stressed that he supports modernization of the airport, providing the appropriate number of air traffic controllers and having proper runway safety lighting.
Alan Rothenberg, chairman of Premier Partnerships, a firm that specializes in maximizing revenues for sports teams, leagues, venues and public facilities, is chairman of the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce and a former president of the Board of Airport Commissioners. He was elected as board president in September 2005 and stepped down in 2010 after he had asked the city attorney to review his potential conflict of interest in voting on LAX concessions when he was on the board of California Pizza Kitchen. The city attorney determined that the entire commission could not vote on concessions if one of them had a conflict of interest.
Rothenberg said that he supports SPAS Alternatives 1 and 9, and cited five safety studies by aviation-related companies that advised moving the runway, performed prior to the NASA/academic study in 2010. He noted that new jobs would create $10 billion in revenue in 10 years if this alternative was approved.
Local resident Tom Brand said that two charts set up for review at the meeting had conflicts. “One chart states that the noise level will go down, but another chart shows that it will increase in my neighborhood. I fail to understand how the people that operate LAX don’t understand there’s no room for expansion,” he said.
Union member Ruben Gonzalez said, “People in rooms like this have held the rest of Los Angeles hostage for too long, making decisions, and it’s time that it stops.”
Danna Cope, a local resident and member of the Alliance for a Regional Solution to Airport Congestion, read a statement at the hearing from Mike Bonin, chief deputy to Rosendahl, and candidate for Rosendahl’s council seat in the upcoming election.
Bonin addressed issues including “finishing the modernization of the Tom Bradley International Terminal; insisting on a consolidated rental car center, as well as supporting an intermodal transportation center and the automated people mover; ensuring the Green Line extension runs directly into LAX; refurbishing and modernizing Terminals 1, 2 and 3; encouraging LAWA to use LAX as a marketing opportunity for Los Angeles attractions and businesses.
Bonin, who has expressed concerns with moving the northern runway, also called for fully installing runway status lights to ensure airfield safety; pressuring the federal government to fully and properly staff the LAX air traffic control tower; and using vacant LAX “northside” properties for new parks, ball fields, passive recreation, a dog park, and local business and job creation.
Resident Claude Rosay claimed that Nielsen Field in Westchester, which abuts an LAX parking lot and is south of Manchester Avenue, would be heavily impacted by the runway reconfiguration.
“There are 1,600 youths that play here, and they have no other field to use. If the runway is moved, these kids will be playing right under the aircraft,” he said.
Robert Ackerman, vice president of ARSAC, said, “This is a policy issue, not a NIMBY issue.” He also pointed out that other alternative choices did not call for moving the northernmost runway closer to homes and businesses.
Shari Barrett, who represents the 63-year-old Westchester Playhouse, located on Hindry Avenue, said moving the runway would seriously affect the facility’s operations. “We have no place else to go,” she said.
Craig Eggers, a Playa del Rey resident and chair of the Airport Relations Committee of the Neighborhood Council of Westchester-Playa, said he supports Alternatives 2 and 9, which call for no runway reconfiguration but recommend modernization and improvements to LAX. “Alternatives 2 and 9 are the most affordable, and implementing these improvements brings in more money,” he said, adding that a modern, regional transportation system was needed.
A representative for the Drollinger Company said the company has not yet been advised how its buildings would be impacted by moving the runway, noting that it was possible the building might partially be in a runway protection zone, which would be decided by the FAA.
Local resident Jim Ouellet claimed that “the A-380 is a sales failure. There are less than 2 percent of flights by the A-380, with a predicted sale of 60; there’s no profit.” Ouellet additionally claimed that the cost of Alternative 1 is three-and-a-half times as much as Alternative 2.
Denny Schneider, president of ARSAC, said, “LAWA and the special interests have huge amounts of money to spend on public relations. Despite their heavy lobbying effort, hundreds showed up to protest the runway move and demanded LAX be fixed. LAWA may achieve their initial approvals to expand LAX by spinning facts and using half-truths to justify a runway expansion.
“They should, however, learn from their own history of (former proposal) Alternative D. Six years after ramming it through, LAWA now calls it ‘economically irresponsible.’ Their current cost estimates for the new Alternative 1 runway move north are low-ball numbers and ignore many potential runway construction costs and impacts. Six years from now Alternative 1 will also be labeled ‘economically irresponsible.’
“Instead of having implemented a real plan to make LAX the world-class airport we deserve, we’ll have a partially completed airport that no one can afford. Please, electeds, let’s get this right for once and fix the landside and access issues now. Don’t make LAX the Enron of airports,” Schneider said.
The SPAS project is available online at www.lawa.org/LAXSPAS.