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Local residents and business owners provided input on the Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) Specific Plan Amendment Study and Notice of Preparation, which includes a proposal to reconfigure the north runways, at a town hall meeting in Westchester Dec. 7.

Los Angeles City Councilman Bill Rosendahl, whose district includes LAX, initiated the town hall to enable the public to comment on the process. Gina Marie Lindsey, executive director of Los Angeles World Airports (LAWA), the city agency that operates LAX, was also in attendance.

The Specific Plan Amendment Study (SPAS) and NOP was presented to the public at two public scoping meetings last month by Diego Alvarez, LAWA’s project manager for the study.

At the Westchester town hall Rosendahl reiterated his position of advocating for modernization and opposing expansion of LAX.

He noted LAX is the cheapest airport for take-off and departure because the airport has not been modernized since the 1984 Olympics, and that once the cost of modernization is passed on to the airlines offering non-stop, discounted flights, those airlines might begin using facilities such as Ontario International Airport.

The SPAS has greatly angered many Westchester and Playa del Rey residents and business owners, who thought moving the north runway further north into the communities was no longer an issue after the NASA/Academic Panel Safety Study was released early this year. The study had concluded that there was no need to reconfigure the runways, describing them as extremely safe.

Rosendahl said there are two very important safety issues at the airport – Runway Status Lights and returning the number of certified and experienced air traffic controllers to 47. He said that LAX is projected to have Runway Status Lights on the entire airfield by the end of 2011.

Rosendahl stressed that there is no issue of safety regarding LAX’s northern runways and that the NASA/Academic Panel study had verified that the runways are very safe. He said while A-380s, the world’s largest passenger jets, are wanted at LAX, it’s not a reason to expand the airport because these aircraft are already using LAX.

Any potential lawsuits would halt the modernization effort, he said, and that isn’t something anyone wants.

“To the business types who want to expand the airport because it’s good business for Los Angeles, I say create a larger chamber of commerce from San Diego to Santa Barbara that realizes that Ontario is a good spot too. It doesn’t all have to be here. They say it’s about business, jobs, recessions, but don’t you believe it,” said Rosendahl.

Lindsey told the audience, “We’re not doing this because we want to. We are required to do it as part of the stipulated settlement agreement over the Alternative D Master Plan.”

She said airport officials are restarting the project now that all of the safety studies have been done, and it is supposed to study alternative ways to address the problems that were originally going to be resolved by the “yellow light” projects under Alternative D.

“We’re not artificially restricting the options on the table, which is part of what you’re concerned about,” she told the audience. “One of the things that is an option currently on the table for study that I think is troubling you is moving the north runway 400 feet north. Of course, you’ve never heard of this before because it’s never been on the table. We have no airfield that meets current FAA (Federal Aviation Adminstration) regulatory standards for Group V and Group VI operations in all weather conditions. The only geometric configuration that would meet all those requirements is the separation of an additional 400 feet.”

Lindsey said the proposed runway reconfiguration isn’t necessarily the preferred project.

“I’m suggesting that we wouldn’t have an intellectually honest planning process if we didn’t have that on the table. Whatever options that stay on the table, you’ll see the analysis that leads to our recommendation, and whatever options fall off the table, you’ll also see the recommendations of why they go off the table.

“We’re hoping to have this done in the next 12 months for a draft. I feel badly for the community, the airport staff, everyone who’s had years and years of wrangling and suspicion. You’ll at least know you got all the information and why something is on the table and why it’s off,” she continued. “This analysis will take us where it takes us, and we have no predetermined outcome for it. I would say a 100-foot south option doesn’t make much sense, but we’re including it.”

Denny Schneider, president of the Alliance for a Regional Solution to Airport Congestion (ARSAC), responded to Lindsey, “We did agree that we wanted that. We wanted to move the inboard runway 100 feet south, cut off a piece of the terminals, and fix the taxiways. Unfortunately, neither one of the two options that LAWA has in its NOP does that, and when we gave them our comments, it was not incorporated, even though we gave it to them several weeks ahead of the Board of Airport Commissioners (BOAC) meeting.”

Schneider added, “I got back with your folks, and the suggestions were ignored. I told them what was wrong with what they did and the two options on the table are designed for failure. As much as I’m upset, I want to acknowledge that Ms. Lindsey is trying to work with us.”

Alvarez then gave the same presentation to the audience that was given at two public scoping meetings in November. He said the proposed project consists of the SPAS, including related amendments to the adopted LAX Plan and LAX Specific Plan. The LAX Master Plan was adopted in December 2004, with a special procedure for the “yellow light” projects, which include:

Develop a Ground Transportation Center (GTC); demolish Central Terminal Area Terminals 1, 2 and 3; north runway reconfiguration, including center taxiways; and make on-site road improvements associated with the GTC and people mover.

The SPAS is accessible online by clicking on “Specific Plan Amendment Study” at:

www.ourLAX.org.

During public comment, Howard Bennett claimed over 1,000 homes have been destroyed because of the airport during the more than 50 years he has lived in Playa del Rey. He said the proposed project goes against the safety study that has proven the LAX north runways are safe. More air traffic controllers should be hired, large aircraft should land at Ontario International Airport, and a high-speed rail line should be built for the city of Los Angeles, Bennett suggested.

The Westchester-Playa Neighborhood Council and the Westchester Neighborhood Association co-hosted the town hall and representatives spoke about the potential effect on the business district in Westchester, saying the Ralphs, In-N-Out restaurant, and Starbucks on Sepulveda Boulevard would be removed. One speaker talked about the lost sales tax from destroyed local businesses and reduced property values.

Craig Eggers from the neighborhood council said that LAWA has broken more promises and that after reading the NOP, he believes it is “lacking severely in details.” He said there was a lack of consideration regarding livelihoods and was concerned about job and property loss.

Some speakers asked about various environmental and financial impacts of the proposed options, and Alvarez said the draft EIR is being conducted to answer those types of questions.

Other speakers claimed the project is not about safety, but about expansion and the desire to make money by the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce, the city of Los Angeles, and local unions.

A number of speakers said they are tired of being referred to as NIMBYs (not in my backyard) standing in the way of progress because they want to protect their homes, businesses and local schools.

One speaker said that false information is being spread to Los Angeles residents, such as the claim that Group V and Group VI aircraft, like the A380, can’t use LAX, because those aircraft currently do use the airport.

In response to questions about the use of the south airfield for large aircraft such as the A380, Alvarez said that the A380s can use the south airfield, but the issue is how the A380’s landing affects other aircraft.

Several speakers also said they wanted to know what happened to an air quality study by LAWA. On Feb. 25, 2008, a $2.2 million, three-year study of the impact of Los Angeles International Airport on the air quality of surrounding communities was approved unanimously by the Board of Airport Commissioners.

“This is the most comprehensive air quality study that’s ever been taken on by an airport in the U.S.,” said Roger Johnson, deputy executive director for environmental services at LAWA.

LAWA officials said the study had gone through the first two phases, but that the second phase brought up more questions and the second phase would be restudied.

Another question was about the federal law forbidding the building of a runway next to a highway, such as Lincoln Boulevard, if the potential reconfiguration involves that highway, and Alvarez said that would have to be studied as well.

Schneider said that ARSAC is providing its comments in hopes that LAWA will revise its conduct so that the amendment study and the EIR will be consistent with the settlement agreement, and will be sensitive to the impacts on the surrounding communities.

“Moving the runway north will destroy more than 80 homes and the Westchester Central Business District on Sepulveda Boulevard. Many of these businesses could disappear forever,” states an ARSAC flyer distributed at the meeting.

“No runway movement is our preferred alternative for the north complex,” said Schneider.

“LAWA and the FAA spent most of the past five years using incursion reduction and runway safety improvement as justification for expanding the separation distances between the north runways. ARSAC has repeatedly stated that we want the safest runways practical and that there are other, more cost-effective options to improve runway safety.”

Schneider added that “the FAA stated our case most eloquently in their FAA Runway Safety Report, Executive Summary June 2008, when it put runway incursion experience into context by stating ‘Of the 24 serious incursions (national) in fiscal year 2007, eight involved commercial flights. At this rate (eight in over 25 million operations) a person could fly on one commercial flight every day for as many as 4,280 years without encountering a serious runway incursion.’” An appendix to this report provides numerous potential additions to airport safety that can be added without runway movement, he said.

Schneider explained that ARSAC has provided LAWA with numerous suggestions to improve airfield safety through enhanced marking, lighting and signage; installation of Runway Status Lights and systems such as Enhanced Final Approach Runway Occupancy Signals. He said they went one step further by advocating for a fully staffed control tower of highly experienced controllers, and that LAWA should conduct an unbiased evaluation of the options before the alternatives are finally selected for inclusion in the draft EIR.

ARSAC COMMENTS IN LETTER TO LAWA –

Other ARSAC comments in the letter to LAWA included the following:

How has LAWA planned to incorporate each of the system improvements in the 2008 FAA Runway Safety Report into its safety and efficiency studies for each option?;

During the September 2010 Specific Plan Amendment Committee meeting, LAWA presented the options that they intended to include in the NOP, and in addition to the “no action” and “approved Alternative D of 340 feet south” configurations, each of the options called for moving runways north toward Westchester-Playa del Rey;

LAWA stated that its two “100 feet south alternatives” would receive “at least cursory study” but the criteria for acceptance for formal, complete study have not been revealed in the NOP or other documents;

ARSAC informed LAWA that both of their options are unacceptable because they fail to include what we requested for taxiway layouts. ARSAC requests a modification of the existing LAWA plan to extend Taxiway D without creating a potential bottleneck along the northern edges of Terminals 1 and 3;

Movement of Runway 24R to the north will preclude construction of airfield-serving commercial purposes, for which LAWA-owned property between Runway 24R and Westchester Parkway is currently zoned. Construction of buildings to accommodate such uses would provide a significant environmental buffer between airfield operations and the community with respect to community safety, noise, vibration, light, air pollution and aesthetics, in addition to the economic benefit of such uses for LAWA and the city of Los Angeles;

LAWA’s knowledge of what lies below its runways is inadequate as proven by the discovery of a previously unknown runway below the south runway complex during construction of Runway 25L and the adjacent taxiway. It is known that one and perhaps more than one tunnel exists below Runway 24R. To understand the environmental, construction and economic cost and impact of moving the runway north, an extensive program of borings along the entire length of the north airfield must be undertaken and the environmental impact and the financial cost studied;

The intersection of Lincoln and Sepulveda boulevards adjacent to the LAX north airfield is one of the most important roadways in all of Los Angeles County. It links all of the residential communities, businesses and land uses of the Westside (Marina del Rey, Venice, Santa Monica, Mar Vista, Pacific Palisades, Brentwood, etc.) with the communities, businesses and land use of the South Bay.

If the perimeter fence of LAX is extended outward to accommodate the north movement of the runways, it will have an immense impact on these people, businesses and land uses both during and after construction. In fact, the entire region will be impacted if the perimeter fence is moved outward. For each option that is to be evaluated, identify the extent of roadway movement and the environmental and financial cost of doing so. Each option should be studied, including, without limitation, the impacts both during construction and after project completion on the region as a whole and on local traffic, air quality, noise, etc.;

Any impacts from sewer lines and oil pipelines rerouting must be assessed with adequate cost projections. The Hyperion Treatment Plant located adjacent to the southwest corner of LAX is the city of Los Angeles’ most important wastewater treatment plant. Huge sewer lines bring storm and sewer water to Hyperion near LAX. If the runways of the north airfield are moved and/or if the perimeter fence of LAX is extended outward to accommodate the north movement of the runways, it will likely impact the Hyperion pipeline feeder system. The environmental and financial cost of relocating sewer and storm water pipelines must be thoroughly studied, including, without limitation, the impact both during construction and after-project completion on regional and local traffic, land use, etc.;

Westchester Central Business District impacts must be fully disclosed, including impacts on traffic, the costs of traffic improvements, and the economic losses that would occur if the 6L/26R runway is moved north. The Westchester Business District is the lifeblood of the communities on the north of LAX. Depending on the runway option chosen, the impact could be to decimate as much as half of the business district due to FAA-required removals to enforce the runway protection zone and runway safety area;

What would be the effect on the various schools and churches that are along the Westchester Parkway corridor – St. Bernard, and Westchester high schools, St. Anastasia, Paseo del Rey, Loyola Village, Visitation, etc.? This could include air and noise pollution or a safety risk if there was an air disaster;

In 2009-10 LAWA investigated some interim runway safety improvement projects which moved Taxiways W and Y and several other actions. An NOP was released in June. If they are not considered part of the proposed runway option changes, why not?’

Although LAWA has inadequate funding to construct all of the program projects that it wishes, approval of any master plan expanding north may have consequences for surrounding communities even before delayed projects are built. Schedule uncertainty can devastate businesses, which would defer new projects. It would hurt property owners as businesses vacate to more stable environments and residence values would suffer anticipated impacts.

The ARSAC letter stated that as part of the Specific Plan city ordinance and the Stipulated Settlement Agreement, “LAWA was supposed to conduct outreach to affected stakeholders. It is unclear what outreach LAWA has conducted and we would like an enumeration of meetings showing what types of stakeholders participated, what suggestions were considered by LAWA, and which, if any, were incorporated into their proposed options.”-

-Referring to the town hall meeting, Valeria Velasco, the interim president of the Board of Airport Commissioners, told The Argonaut, “This is an amazing turnout of concerned residents and business people, those who have been involved in the process for 15 years and those who are new to the process. It is important to stay close to the process which is going to take about 14 months.

“In about Dec. 2011, the environmental impact report will be released by LAWA. At that time, it is very important that our community participate in the scoping meetings held by LAWA so that everyone’s concerns and comments become part of the environmental impact report, which must be addressed by LAWA.

“Thank you to Councilman Rosendahl for being true to his commitment of ‘modernization yes, expansion no,’ and to Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa for being true to his pledge not to expand LAX unless safety factors were at risk,” Velasco said.