By Gary Walker
Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and other city officials new to their offices this year discussed a variety of issues concerning Westsiders — the future of Los Angeles International Airport among them — during a Nov. 6 forum at Loyola Marymount University.
Garcetti was joined by City Controller Ron Galperin, City Attorney Mike Feuer and local Los Angeles City Councilman Mike Bonin at the “100 Days, Plus…” forum organized by Westside Democratic clubs to discuss the mutual benchmark in their terms.
But the Nov. 1 shooting spree at LAX that claimed the life of a federal airport security officer and left several others wounded came up almost immediately.
“Our first responders did a heroic job, but there is room for improvement,” Bonin said of the airport’s response to the shooting in response to a question by panel moderator and KCRW 89.9 FM radio host Warren Olney.
“In the cold light of day we have seen that there were way too many people who didn’t know what to do and way too many [airport staff and officials] who couldn’t tell them what to do,” Bonin said.
In the wake of the tragedy, thousands of travelers were left stranded in and around LAX while the airport was locked down for several hours with no departing flights.
As passengers waited to retrieve belongings they abandoned while fleeing the gunman in Terminal 3, staff of the mayor’s office stepped up to assist those in immediate need.
“There was one woman who I was told had to get heart medication for her father and my staff was able to help her with that,” Garcetti said after the meeting.
Bonin has called on Los Angeles World Airports, which operates LAX, and the Board of Airport Commissioners report before year’s end on ways to improve “timely coordination with emergency response entities [and] dissemination of appropriate and relevant information to the traveling public” during an airport disaster.
He also wants those same agencies to consider an airport-wide communications system using the city’s and airport’s existing electronic screens and assign airport personnel to strategic locations to assist passengers during emergencies.
Feuer weighed in on the fatal shooting as well, focusing on the alleged gunman’s actions.
“One of my duties as city attorney will be to examine the continuing scourge of gun violence,” he said. “For me this is a cause, not just a function of my job.”
Another airport-related topic was LAX’s northern runway, which airport officials would like to move toward Playa del Rey and Westchester as part of its modernization plans.
Both Bonin and Garcetti said they oppose the runway move and believe airport authorities should instead improve ground transportation flow before considering runway changes.
“I’ve been consistent in my belief that the runway does not have to be moved,” Garcetti said.
The mayor also said he backs a plan by Bonin to link LAX with Metropolitan Transportation Authority light rail lines by constructing a transportation hub near the airport that would include a people-mover conveyance.
During his mayoral bid, Garcetti promised to increase accountability among city bureaucrats and after taking office embarked on a “Back-to-Basics” tour that included an August stop in Venice.
“I have asked each department head to submit memos outlining their specific goals,” Garcetti, who when taking office ordered all city department heads to reapply for their jobs, told the audience at LMU.
Galperin stressed “utilizing the city’s financial resources in the most practical way” and said he would soon initiate audits of both Los Angeles World Airports and the city’s Dept. of Water and Power.
“These are significant audits and will take some time,” Galperin said after the meeting.
Cyndi Hench, president of the Neighborhood Council of Westchester-Playa, praised Garcetti and Bonin for their attention to airport-related issues.
“I was very happy to hear Mayor Garcetti share views that were consistent with his campaign promises to our community and consistent with Councilman Bonin’s opposition to moving the runway to the north,” Hench said.
“I was also pleased to hear our councilman and mayor [recognize] that our community is very supporting of modernization of the airport and that [opposition to the runway move] is not nimbyism,” she added.