LAX: Airport Commission okays proposal for separating north runways
By Helga Gendell
The Los Angeles Board of Airport Commissioners voted 6-1 Feb. 5 to approve Los Angeles World Airports’ proposed Specific Plan Amendment Study (SPAS) Alternatives 1 and 9, which call for separating the north runways at Los Angeles International Airport by 260 feet.
Commission Vice President Val Velasco was the only member to oppose the LAWA staff’s recommendation of Alternatives 1 and 9. Many Westchester-Playa del Rey community members have pushed for Alternative 2, which does not relocate the northernmost runway.
Velasco told The Argonaut, “We as commissioners have the responsibility to not only the adjacent communities but to the chambers of commerce and everyone in the trade and tourism business to select the SPAS alternative that doesn’t violate the settlement agreement, that is the environmentally superior alternative, that is the most efficient and extremely safe in its current configuration, and that actually encourages growth at other airports to avoid future ground and airspace gridlock. If we reject a plan such as Alternative 2 that performs as environmentally superior, is more efficient and is extremely safe in its current configuration, we are irresponsible; we are breaking the law.”
At a Jan. 31 special meeting, the Airport Commission heard comments from the public on the proposal for separating the north airfield runways.
Residents and business owners who oppose Los Angeles World Airports staff’s choice of SPAS Alternative 1 and 9 told commissioners that they support Alternatives 2 and 9 because Alternative 1 calls for moving the northernmost runway 260 feet closer toward the Westchester-Playa del Rey community, in addition to constructing a center taxiway between the two runways, and reconfiguration of Lincoln Boulevard.
Alternative 9 is an option for LAX’s ground transportation system featuring “new ground facilities outside the Central Terminal Area that would include an intermodal transportation facility, a consolidated rental car facility, and an automated people mover when ground transportation merits those improvements,” according to LAWA documentation.
In addition, LAWA officials said they are “identifying three potential sites for light rail/airport circulator connections, two of which are on airport property, preserving opportunities for the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Metro) to bring light rail directly into the airport.”
Audience members who oppose Alternative 1 were caught by surprise when Marx Gutierrez, representing the Service Employees International Union-United Service Workers West (SEIU-USWW), said that the SEIU workers left the Coalition to Fix LAX Now. Gutierrez received loud applause and cheers at his announcement.
The SEIU-USWW represents more than 40,000 janitors, security officers, airport service workers, and other property service workers across California. The Coalition to Fix LAX Now is a group consisting of the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce and other business and labor groups advocating for northern runway relocation to accommodate larger aircraft, a centerline taxiway between the north runways, and faster revitalization of the airport
“LAWA is an irresponsible landlord and is poised to be an irresponsible developer,” claimed Gutierrez. “Our issue is that the community benefits agreement that LAWA committed to after the last expansion contained several worker protections that LAWA has simply not enforced. The agreement is most known for noise mitigation and local hiring programs, but it also commits to having all its contractors abide by the rules of the city’s living wage ordinance and the service contractor worker retention ordinance.
“Last year, LAWA allowed a contractor to continue operating at LAX even though the city kept citing this contractor for not complying with the living wage ordinance. Currently LAWA claims that these contractors don’t have to follow the worker retention law either,” claimed Gutierrez.
“There are responsible contractors at LAX but they can’t compete under this regime. Our experience last year has taught us that the agreements that LAWA made with the community, to foster the growth of good jobs, were not taken seriously by the Board of Airport Commissioners, the director and the current mayor,” claimed Gutierrez.
Fellow union member Fanny Fuentes, a mother of three, has worked at LAX for the past 12 years. She told the commissioners, “I’ve worked hard at LAX to provide a better life for my children. As an employee at LAX and a member of the surrounding community, I am here today because I don’t trust this board and LAWA to do what is right for workers and for the community to make important decisions that will have a long-term impact on the residents that live nearby.”
“Your actions have shown me where your priorities lie and who you’re here to serve. It’s not the workers or the community. That much I know, because for the past year we held marches and protests throughout LAX, on Century Boulevard, and inside this building, bringing attention to Aviation Safeguard’s actions, and you did nothing,” claimed Fuentes.
“And now, when you’re trying to expand this airport, you want workers and the community to support your plans. LAX has done nothing to uplift the struggling communities we live in. Instead, you’ve made it possible for irresponsible contractors to continue their attacks on workers working their hardest to provide passengers with the best flying experience,” alleged Fuentes. “Many workers who live around LAX have been held back. We work hard, we make many sacrifices. Our hard work and contribution has contributed to LAX’s prosperity while it has done nothing to ensure ours.”
“The airport cannot represent a handful of interests if it’s going to continue to prosper as it has. It needs to include every perspective; to understand the lives of workers, to understand the lives of those who live in surrounding communities, from Westchester to struggling Lennox,” Fuentes said.
“Enough is enough. We are going to need a seat at the table; we don’t seem to have that. That’s why I’m standing here today in support of the community’s plan,” explained Fuentes.
Andy Loos, vice president of development for Drollinger Properties in Westchester, said, “In our 65 years of business in Westchester we have seen how devastating it can be when LAX expands its operations into our community and business district. We believe in a modern, efficient airport with convenient access and services for the millions of people who use the facility every year. We support LAWA and LAX. But we don’t believe that the movement of the north runway is necessary or prudent for the safe or efficient operation of the airport.”
“These runway protection zones are designed to prevent loss of life to both aircraft passengers and people on the ground in case of an accident. We will have about 600 people in these zones on a daily basis – not counting the customers and clients of these businesses. What provisions are being made to mitigate the increased danger for our business partners in these buildings? We’ve heard nothing in that regard. We will consider all our legal options once we see what gets approved,” noted Loos.
Laurie Hughes, executive director of Gateway to L.A., a property-based business improvement district that includes more than 40 properties on Century Boulevard adjacent to LAX, said that the organization is uniquely linked to LAX and the customer experience, and that she supports Alternatives 1 and 9.
Christina Davis, president and CEO of the LAX Coastal Area Chamber of Commerce, said the chamber supports Alternatives 1 and 9 because they believe it’s the least obtrusive plan to the community. Davis said that saying no to LAWA’s recommendation of moving the runway 260 feet north might mean that the courts would decide the fate of the community and that is not acceptable.
At the Jan. 31 meeting and previous meetings, numerous union members had called for approving SPAS Alternative 1, saying it would bring many new jobs. A labor union representative from Orange County told the commissioners that he represents thousands of union members who are in favor of Alternative 1 for jobs.
According to a Sunday, Feb. 3 Los Angeles Times article, “A report prepared for Los Angeles County’s top administrator claims the operators of LAX have virtually ignored legal requirements to reduce effects on the environment by dispersing growth in commercial flights to other airports in the region. A court settlement in a series of lawsuits over expansion plans at Los Angeles International Airport ordered Los Angeles World Airports to begin regionalizing airline traffic.”
“But William T. Fujioka, the chief executive for Los Angeles County, and a consultant’s report prepared for his office asserts that the city airport department has made only ‘token efforts’ to comply with provisions of the settlement that seek a wider distribution of flights,” the Times article reported.
Denny Schneider, president of the Alliance for a Regional Solution to Airport Congestion (ARSAC), said, “Today’s overflow crowd uniformly calling for approval of Alternatives 2 and 9 illustrates the community resolve not to go quietly into the night. We all want LAX fixed, safe and secure, but not expanded. A regional network of airports is the right answer.
“Safety has never really been the issue. Special interests prefer Alternative 1, which moves the runways north into Westchester-Playa del Rey because they see big construction profits. Los Angeles World Airports has so poorly explored project details that it may not even by viable,” he said. “The potential for massive project cost overruns from tunneling Lincoln Boulevard without adequate preview demonstrates LAWA’s willingness to gamble with our future.
“Adding all the other project risk factors makes designating Alternative 1 unconscionable. To get the airport we all deserve, Alternative 2, with its taxiway and interim runway fixes, should be implemented immediately. The community is no longer fighting alone. It’s great to have the SEIU working side-by-side with the community to improve LAX,” Schneider said.
Douglas Carstens of Chatten-Brown & Carstens, LLP, one of the attorneys representing ARSAC, told the commissioners, “Upon review of the FEIR’s (final environmental impact report) responses to our comments and those of others, we conclude that LAWA may not legally approve the proposed project on the basis of the FEIR and a statement of overriding considerations.
“The FEIR remains deficient in a number of areas and its responses to public comments,” he claimed. “Now that LAWA has identified a proposed project other than the environmentally superior (as described by LAWA documentation) Alternative 2, the EIR must be recirculated so the public and public agencies reviewing it can focus their comments on the proposed combination of Alternatives 1 and 9 that is recommended by staff.”
Carstens said that ARSAC believes LAWA’s “failure to designate a single proposed project deprived the public of its ability to meaningfully review and comment on the draft EIR. “An EIR is supposed to be an environmental ‘alarm bell’ whose purpose it is to alert the public and its responsible officials to environmental changes before they have reached the point of no return.”
Los Angeles Councilman Bill Rosendahl, whose 11th District includes LAX, told the commissioners that he continues to advocate for modernization but not expansion of LAX. He said he continues to oppose movement of the northernmost runway into the communities, and that regionalization continues to be a necessity.
“I’ve told the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce members that Los Angeles is a megalopolis, and part of a much larger picture,” Rosendahl said. “Ontario can get passengers from all over. The city of Los Angeles hasn’t shown enough support for regionalization. You can get to downtown Los Angeles faster from Ontario on the Metro than from LAX.”
Rusty Roder, a representative of the IBEW building trades union, said he supports Alternatives 1 and 9, and that “the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.”
Robert Acherman, vice president of ARSAC and former 37-year Westchester resident, noted that he was responding to claims by business interests that LAX had “lost” a large aircraft flight by Qantas to San Francisco because of the difficulty in landings and take-offs of large aircraft such as the Airbus A380. “They did not lose a flight. San Francisco is the airport that lost the Qantas to Dallas-Ft. Worth International Airport.”
Acherman also said that in regards to a poll of residents in the city of Los Angeles that indicated a high level of approval to move the northern runway, the poll only asked if the runway should be moved 260 feet, but didn’t mention that it would be closer to homes and businesses.
Local resident Jim Ouellet spoke about the A380, saying that “it’s the centerpiece of the argument, but it’s not the future of aviation. Airlines order the A350 and the Boeing 787 because there is less of a money loss risk and a longer range of flying point-to-point. The A380 is best summed up as a $25 billion write-off and an act of industrial irresponsibility,” he said.
A number of speakers also addressed a NASA/academic panel study released in 2010, stating that LAX northern runways are safe, and there was no need to move them. One speaker claimed that the reason supporters are advocating for moving the runway is purely for financial interests and has nothing to do with safety issues.