Residents living near Los Angeles International Airport who are concerned with a proposed reconfiguration of the airport’s north runways have received some support from elected officials representing the communities.
Los Angeles World Airports, the city agency that operates Los Angeles International Airport, held two public scoping meetings earlier this month to gain input on a revised Notice of Preparation (NOP) of a draft environmental impact report (DEIR) for the airport’s Specific Plan Amendment Study.
The proposed project consists of a Specific Plan Amendment Study, including related amendments to the adopted LAX Plan and LAX Specific Plan. Airport officials said potential amendments will be identified by evaluating potential alternative designs, technologies, and configurations for the LAX Master Plan Program intended to provide solutions to the problems that certain LAX Master Plan projects, referred to as “yellow light projects” were designed to address, based on a practical airport capacity at 78.9 million annual passengers.
The Nov. 11 issue of The Argonaut addressed the full presentation by Diego Alvarez, project manager for Los Angeles World Airport’s Specific Plan Amendment Study. This week The Argonaut continues coverage with additional public comment as well as responses from Los Angeles City Councilman Bill Rosendahl and Reps. Maxine Waters and Jane Harman, whose districts all include LAX.
ROSENDAHL LETTER TO CHIEF OF AIRPORT PLANNING –
In a letter to Herb Glasgow, chief of airport planning for Los Angeles World Airports, Rosendahl said the NOP “serves as notice that LAWA will pursue a proposal for moving the LAX north runways up to 400 feet north into Westchester and Playa del Rey, citing safety and operational efficiency as reasons for making the move.”
Rosendahl pointed out that “this latest proposal comes on the heels of a landmark effort by the Los Angeles City Council that urged LAWA to form the North Airfield Runway Safety Advisory Committee (NORSAC) and commission an unimpeachable study of safety on the LAX north airfield.
“NORSAC worked with LAWA, the FAA and a host of stakeholders representing competing interests, and hired NASA and a distinguished panel of academic experts to examine runway safety. The panel, all aviation experts, concluded unanimously in May that the north runways are extremely safe, and that no compelling case could be made for reconfiguring the runways based on safety reasons,” Rosendahl said.
“When I ran for office in 2005 I was very clear that I would not support reconfiguring those runways unless it was necessary to maintain safety. My position has not changed, and I do not support the proposals that have been offered to reconfigure the LAX north runways.
“I’m disappointed that the safety argument continues to be used as justification for the projects. Those safety claims are misleading, and at the appropriate time, I intend on calling on the experts to testify to the City Council to clear the air once again. If safety is the primary concern, then there are far more effective ways to spend the money,” Rosendahl stated.
Saying that from the start he has supported modernization of LAX, but not expansion, Rosendahl stated that under the settlement of previous lawsuits [in 2006] the airport “began a complete reconstruction of the Tom Bradley International Terminal concourses and the Central Utility Plant, and restarted the Specific Plan Amendment process to address remaining airfield and landside improvements that are critical to preparing the airport for the next generation of travelers.”
The councilman requested that the draft environmental impact report address a number of questions, which are listed online under “Hot Topics: NOP letter for LAX Specific Plan Amendment Study” at:
ADDITIONAL PUBLIC COMMENT –
Howard Bennett, who has lived in Playa del Rey for more than 50 years, claimed the area has seen many homes destroyed because of airport expansion plans. He said he started the neighborhood organization, Alliance for a Regional Solution to Airport Congestion (ARSAC), in response to airport noise issues.
“The lie we hear from the airport today is that they need to expand the north runway for safety, again. Rosendahl states in his letter [to Glasgow] that a recent safety study found the north runway safe and there is no further need to expand north,” said Bennett.
Denny Schneider, president of ARSAC, said he is very concerned about the NOP, noting that the idea of moving the runway 100 feet south came from his group and that the two options being proposed are unacceptable.
“We have provided you with alternatives to that, and we will be providing you with extensive details before the deadline, in writing,” he said.
Schneider told the airport representatives, “Tiering of this document is unacceptable and we don’t know how you can use the very old data that was flawed in the first place as any basis for anything other than to protect the airport. The only real application you have is with and without a consolidated rental car facility, which we agreed to in the settlement.
“In terms of the airfield itself, it’s no secret that we are very much opposed to moving north. There’s been enough safety issues raised to justify it and we’ve debunked them. If you want efficiency, we’ve told you that you need to fix the taxiways. There’s not a single one that meets the current standards, I believe. We’ve encouraged you to fix them and moving north will not do that,” Schneider continued.
“Moving north will also be very expensive. Last but not least, we don’t know what the criteria is by which you’re going to evaluate these items, and unfortunately, you’re going to do a ‘quick and dirty’ on some of these and a more extensive review on others, and we don’t know what those are going to be, which makes us extremely uncomfortable,” he said.
Robert Modine said that in April, FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt told residents that LAX is not safe, not withstanding the observation that nothing will happen over the next 200 years based on the academic study.
Modine claimed that the proposal to demolish Terminals 1, 2 and 3 will further eliminate 14 gates, calling it “ridiculous.”
Local resident Craig Eggers, who said he was speaking on behalf of the Neighborhood Council of Westchester-Playa, read from a letter unanimously approved by the council:
“The runways are already safe. The northern most runway should be unchanged. We agree with the mayor and other officials representing the areas around LAX that changes to the northside airfield would be necessary only if the runways are unsafe.
“For several years there was a push by LAWA to expand the north runway complex justified by the need to be safe. This has been shown to be an inaccurate characterization by the multi-million dollar-plus LAWA-funded, (Airport Commission)-approved northside runway safety committee study. The review of north runway conditions that was conducted and recognized by academic experts in the field of aviation and safety and NASA,” the letter continues.
“Specifically, the report stated directly that the only justification for runway movement would be an expansion, not any safety condition, and that given the high degree of existing safety, only a minimal safety improvement would be afforded by the runway changes to the northside. The report went on to state that operational efficiency was an inadequate justification for the runway movement compared to the costs involved.”
West Los Angeles resident Martin Rubin of Concerned Residents Against Airport Pollution said LAX officials should look at the air pollution generated because of operations.
He said that Santa Monica Airport ties in with LAX because pilots at Santa Monica utilizing instrument flights can’t take off to the west until they get a cue from LAX, which results in delays and idling.
Recent studies have shown new dangers of ultra-fine particle emissions, with no regulations on them, said Rubin.
“With an airport in the community, you need to look at the effect. Business interests are fine, but not at the huge expense of quality of life and health impacts on the community,” Rubin said.
Nan Schneider said she was not in favor of moving the runway north or west. She said the plans would move noise over unprotected areas, placing the safety zone in a high school parking lot.
WATERS COMMENTS –
Waters told The Argonaut, “I am deeply disappointed that LAWA is still considering proposals to move the north runways 100 to 400 feet north. Like my constituents in the communities surrounding LAX, I will continue to oppose LAWA’s misguided efforts to relocate the north runways farther north.
“These proposals would have a harmful impact on residents and businesses in Westchester and Playa del Rey, along the north side of LAX, as well as areas like Inglewood that are below the flight path for planes serving the airport. Last February, a panel of experts with the support of NASA completed a study of various configurations of the north runways and concluded ‘the LAX North Airfield is extremely safe under the current configuration.’
“There is no reason to re-open discussions of moving the north runways any closer to homes and businesses,” Waters said.
HARMAN COMMENTS –
Harman told The Argonaut that she met with Gina Marie Lindsey, executive director of LAWA, and believes that the airport has put forth a major effort to involve the community.
“Safety is paramount, and if the runways are unsafe, they have to be changed. But in terms of accommodating a new generation of super jumbo jets, I’m less enthusiastic because there will be very few at LAX,” said Harman.
“If safety is not involved, the airport needs to be a good neighbor, so I’m watching this very closely. I think there are safety issues that could come into play in terms of moving the runways slightly farther apart, like by 100 feet, but that won’t impact the business district of Westchester. There is room to accommodate that,” she said.
Harman said Lindsey had talked to her about 300 feet being a possible option, either north or south, for reconfiguration.
“One other possibility, and they’re reviewing this, is impacting Terminals 1, 2 and 3. My view is, those terminals should be rebuilt anyway. I’m not trying to impose anything on the airlines, but they’re not very sturdy and I worry about a terrorist attack at the airport,” said Harman.
“The ‘Jane Harman flower pots’ at Terminal 1 are barriers to vehicles, and I’ve made a huge fuss about how vulnerable these terminals are. Major efforts are being made to remove the obvious hazards that could be affected by cars or trucks blowing up. If Terminal 1 is impacted by moving the runway south and had to be rebuilt, or relocated in a sturdier form, I wouldn’t cry.
“As far as moving north, again, if there is a safety imperative, I think we have to be serious about that. I understand from (Lindsey) that the Westchester community is engaged and working with the airport, and that there may be some accommodation that can be reached that would satisfy my requirement that the airport is a good neighbor. I’m not speaking for the community, those conversations are ongoing,” she said.
The congresswoman said that she also raised the issue with Lindsey of cross taxiways being located in the middle, not around the edges, noting that Southwest Airlines planes, in particular, tend to perform a very short landing, then idle and taxi back to the terminal to save some distance. The exhaust and noise from this process impact the neighbors, stated Harman, adding that a possible accommodation could be considered to move that cross taxiway.
“I will play a role because I’m a federal official and the FAA has to sign off on this, but we’re not there yet. Where we are right now is monitoring the airport’s outreach to the neighbors and I think that is going well,” Harman said.
LETTERS FROM COMMUNITY MEMBERS –
In a letter to Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, Playa del Rey resident Ned Callahan said he and his wife believed in the mayor’s statement that Los Angeles needed a regional airport solution and that LAX should not create further disruption of the surrounding neighborhoods. Callahan said his assistance in bringing the ARSAC lawsuit to a close made him and many Westchester and Playa del Rey residents “truly believe we could live without the threat of further encroachment by LAX.”
“Because you appoint the Airport Commission and the airport manager, we are having trouble understanding why they seem dedicated to the idea of moving the north runway into our residential neighborhood,” he told the mayor.
Because the recent safety study proved there was no safety issue, and because safety was the only reason given for the Airport Commission’s “all-consuming desire to bring more noise, pollution and hazard to our communities,” Callahan said he found it “particularly difficult to comprehend when there are so many other viable options for runway configuration if the need really exists.”
John James, a resident of Playa del Rey for more than 30 years, wrote to Glasgow, stating that he knew the airport was there when he bought his house, but he decided he “could live a nice life, even with the everyday air traffic from LAX.
“However, over the years the traffic and runway expansion have only gotten worse. Do you realize what a detriment to all of the homeowners there will be with a runway so close to some of the homes? Will we be able to see the passengers as the aircraft taxi around? The noise will be deafening,” said James.
In her letter to Villaraigosa, former ARSAC president and Playa del Rey resident Jennifer Dakoske-Koslu said she had campaigned vigorously on the mayor’s behalf in 2005-2006, walking precincts, making phone calls and attending fundraisers along with many of her neighbors and friends who supported Villaraigosa in part because “of your enlightened position with regards to LAX and support for a regional solution.”
“Now, just a few years into the historic settlement agreement between ARSAC and LAX, we are finding ourselves in an even more threatening position as LAWA proposed to move the north runway closer to our already overburdened residential neighborhood. The idea that LAWA would propose moving the runway closer to our homes not only violates the spirit of our agreement but also violates the trust that we placed in you and your administration,” Dakoske-Koslu told the mayor.
“It seems to me that this issue is not about safety at all. It seems like this is just another big, expensive construction project – a bridge to nowhere – estimated to cost over $500 million while endangering the health and well-being of thousands of residents who live just steps away from LAX,” she said.
To view the entire Specific Plan Amendment Study complete with diagrams discussed at the public meetings, www.OurLAX.org.
The draft EIR will be available for review in late 2011. The final EIR is expected to be adopted late 2011 or early 2012, said Alvarez.
Comments must be received no later than 5 p.m. Monday, Nov. 29. Responses should be sent to Glasgow, chief of airport planning I, city of Los Angeles, Los Angeles World Airports, 1 World Way, Room 218, Los Angeles, CA 90045 or e-mailed to: