Legislation would ground plans to move an LAX runway closer to neighborhoods

By Gary Walker

A plane takes to the air from LAX’s north runway Photo by Celso Diniz

A plane takes to the air from LAX’s north runway
Photo by Celso Diniz

Opponents of a controversial plan to relocate LAX’s northernmost runway closer to Westchester and Playa del Rey are lauding proposed legislation that, if approved by Congress, would prohibit the move.

Last week Rep. Maxine Waters (D- Los Angeles), whose district includes LAX, introduced the LAX Community Safety Act, which would prevent Runway 24R from being moved as much as 260 feet closer to surrounding neighborhoods.

“LAX operations already cause tremendous noise, air pollution and traffic congestion for the communities near LAX,” Waters said in a statement about her proposal. “Relocating Runway 24R closer to Westchester will exacerbate these impacts.”

Meanwhile, airport officials appear to have backed away from their previous insistence that moving the runway is necessary for ongoing modernization efforts. Los Angeles World Airports (LAWA), the public agency that runs LAX, named a new executive director last year.

“At this time, the north runway is not a priority,” said LAWA spokeswoman Mary Grady. “Los Angeles World Airports shares Rep. Maxine Waters’ deep concern for safety at LAX and the surrounding communities.”

Former LAWA Executive Director Gina Marie Lindsey had argued that the current north runway configuration slowed airport operations when larger airplanes such as the Airbus 380 and Boeing 787 would arrive or depart. A new runways configuration, she said, would allow for smoother airfield operations and increase airport safety.

Waters disagrees.

“Safety is a critical concern for LAX. That includes both the safety of the airport and all who use the airport, and the safety of the surrounding communities,” she said. “Relocating Runway 24R farther to the north would bring the risk of an aircraft accident closer to homes, schools, churches and businesses in Westchester and Playa del Rey, and consequently reduce safety for people who live and work in these communities.”

Longtime LAX expansion opponent Denny Schneider, president of the Alliance for a Regional Solution to Airport Congestion, had frequently tangled with Lindsey over the runway plan.

“I think there are ways that we can make the runways safe and more efficient other than moving them, so I support Rep. Waters’ legislation,” he said.

Without an act of Congress, there’s no guarantee the runway will stay put, Schneider said.

The runway move already had the support of the Los Angeles City Council.

The council approved the LAX modernization plan, including the runway move, on a 10-3 vote in 2013. But those who voted no included L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti (then on the council) and the late Councilman Bill Rosendahl, whose successor, Councilman Mike Bonin, also opposes the runway move.

During a raucous May 2013 community meeting in Westchester, Waters encouraged residents to take legal action against LAX if necessary.

“The fight’s not over, because I think we know our way into the courtroom,” Waters said to thunderous applause.

Alliance for a Regional Solution to Airport Congestion member James Ouellet, a Playa del Rey resident, said Waters’ proposed legislation would ensure that LAX isn’t forced to move the runway by the Federal Aviation Administration.

“My impression is the FAA could at some point demand to move the runway, so I hope Rep. Waters’ legislation passes,” he said. “We’d get more noise and more pollution if they moved it farther north.”

FAA spokesman Ian Gregor said the agency does not comment on pending legislation.

Bonin reiterated his earlier opposition to a runway move.

“I do not support moving the north runway and have stood with neighbors in Westchester and Playa del Rey to protect the health and safety of neighborhoods,” he said.