By Gary Walker
Mayor Eric Garcetti announced his choices for the Board of Airport Commissioners for Los Angeles World Airports Aug. 14, less than three months after he was elected to office.
The board oversees Los Angeles International Airport as well as Ontario International and Van Nuys airports. Sean Burton, Gabriel Eshaghian, Jackie Goldberg, Bea Hsu, Matthew Johnson and Cynthia Telles are Garcetti’s new appointees, as the mayor looked to make nearly a clean sweep of the commission.
Valeria Velasco, the board vice president and a Playa del Rey resident, was the only commissioner who was retained from former Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s administration.
Hsu is a former advisor to Garcetti on affordable housing and redevelopment.
Among the other appointees, Goldberg has had a long career in politics. She has served in the state Legislature as an assemblywoman, as a member of the Los Angeles Unified School District Board on Education and on the City Council in the late 1990s.
“L.A.’s airports are a critical economic engine and our city’s first impression for millions of visitors every year,” said Garcetti. “I’m pleased to appoint these talented Angelenos to the Airport Commission and know they will focus on ensuring L.A. has world-class airports that are also first-class neighbors.”
The mayor’s selections have been highly anticipated, given the controversy surrounding the City Council’s April 30 vote that authorized moving the airport’s northernmost runway 260 feet toward Westchester and Playa del Rey.
“The (appointees) are outstanding individuals who not only are able to think for themselves but have already done some of the homework and understand that the airport plan to expand the north runway that was passed is a non-starter,” said Westchester resident Denny Schneider, who has been involved in several skirmishes with LAX for nearly three decades.
Garcetti, who voted against the runway move when he was on the council, told The Argonaut in a June 15 interview that his choices for the commission would not involve a litmus test but they would be appointees who are in line with many of his previously stated positions.
“I’m not looking to stack (the board) with people who are opposed to moving the runway or are opposed to having a public transit link (into the airport), but I do want people who reflect my values and positions and who are skilled at bringing people together,” he said.
Councilman Mike Bonin, who represents Westchester and backed the mayor during his election bid, thinks Garcetti’s selections speak volumes about his belief that the airport runway move was the wrong position.
“My first reaction when I heard about the appointments was ‘Hallelujah,’” Bonin recalled. “I think it would be hard not to notice that the only member of the commission that was retained voted against the runway move, and the commissioners that voted in favor of it were thanked for their service and now we have six new appointees.”
Ken Alpern, a Mar Vista resident who is the co-chair of the Council District 11 Transportation Advisory Committee, proclaimed the appointment of six new commissioners a “bold move to rein in LAWA” in a CityWatch article.
Calling the selections a “virtual clean sweep,” Alpern believes Garcetti is determined to show his constituents that he wants to be an agent of change, likening the commission appointments to the mayor’s stance on one of the city’s most powerful utilities.
“I agree with the message that the mayor is making about the Board of Airport Commissioners and it is my belief he is trying to make a similar statement to the DWP (Department of Water and Power),” said Alpern, who is also a member of the Mar Vista Community Council.
“Clearly, his actions are such that he wants to come across as someone who says what he means and means what he says.”
Schneider applauded Garcetti for keeping Velasco on the commission. “I’m pleased that Val will still be a member of the commission because she has an understanding and history of the airport,” he said.
The runway move has been opposed by several Westside groups outside of Westchester and Playa del Rey. But the LAX Coastal Area Chamber of Commerce supports moving the runway, which led several longtime members – among them Velasco – to cancel or not renew their memberships.
“I am very honored and humbled that Mayor Garcetti has given me the opportunity to continue to serve the city of Los Angeles, representing the business and residential communities of Westchester and Playa del Rey as a commissioner on the Board of Airport Commissioners for Los Angeles World Airports,” Velasco told The Argonaut.
Schneider, whose organization, Alliance for a Regional Solution to Airport Congestion has sued LAWA over the airport’s environmental impact report related to moving the runway, sees the mayor’s selections as more than just an executive’s typical position- filling exercise.
“These appointments appear to be people who know the mayor’s stance on the airport and agree with the mayor’s position on the airport, and not just political appointments,” he said.
Alpern views the mayor’s action as an overhaul of previous airport policy. “LAWA needs reform and it’s high time we had a mayor looking out for the voters and making it clear that Los Angeles owns its airports,” he asserted.
Bonin said there was a stark difference between Garcetti’s appointments and those by former mayor Villaraigosa.
“Under the Villaraigosa administration you were never really sure what the vision for the airport was,” he said. “These selections) clearly reflect Mayor Garcetti’s views on the airport.”
Changes at the airport might not end with the appointment of six new commissioners.
Last month, the mayor requested all city department heads, including LAWA Executive Director Gina Marie Lindsey, to reapply for their positions. Lindsey, who has presided over an airport modernization plan that has been lauded by a number of business associations, civic groups and employee unions, has been severely criticized on the Westside for championing and helping to shepherd through the runway move.
Garcetti’s choices for airport commissioner must be approved by the City Council. The exception is Velasco, whose term expires June 30, 2017.
LAX: Garcetti seeks new leadership on Airport Commission, but keeps vice president
By Gary Walker