A group of airport area cities, airport-adjacent organizations and the county are close to agreement to end lawsuits against a proposed expansion of Los Angeles International Airport (LAX).

The City of Los Angeles agreed to review an $11 billion effort to modernize LAX and indicated that the city will attempt to slow passenger growth, support regional air traffic expansion, reduce traffic congestion and lower noise and air pollution in the airport area.

The agreement, announced at a press conference Thursday, December 1st, by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa at LAX, means that work to modernize Tom Bradley International Terminal and improvements to the southern runways to reduce aircraft incursions — halted by the lawsuits — may begin.

The lawsuits had halted work on these and other projects at LAX associated with the proposed airport expansion.

About $150 million in design costs and 11 years in planning were spent on the proposed LAX expansion — first proposed during the city administration of former mayor Richard Riordan.

Participants in last week’s announcement are hopeful that the described negotiations among the parties may be a new beginning to the solution of the long anti-LAX expansion controversy.

Not yet finalized, the agreement announced last week must first be approved by the City Councils of Los Angeles, El Segundo, Culver City and Inglewood, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

One of the controversial issues concerned the realignment of southern runways, including moving a major southern runway 55 feet closer to El Segundo and installing a center taxiway between two runways.

The agreement allows $240 million worth of soundproofing in nearby airport communities to be accelerated, although Westchester critics are already complaining that none of the new proposed soundproofing is in Westchester or Playa del Rey.

The lawsuits were filed by opponents to former mayor James Hahn’s Alternative D LAX expansion plan.

Hahn’s plan included an off-ground transportation center in the Manchester Square area of Westchester — which had drawn much of the local criticism against the plan.

Critics alleged that Alternative D would leave LAX more vulnerable to terrorist attack, would fail to expand air traffic to other airports, and would increase the number of LAX passengers and traffic and air congestion at LAX.

ALTERNATIVE D PLAN — The proposed ground transportation center in Manchester Square would have been located east of LAX and bounded by Arbor Vitae Street on the north, Aviation Boulevard on the west, Century Boulevard on the south and La Cienega Boulevard on the east and would have included 128 acres that once contained 519 residences.

The ground transportation center would have been the hub of passenger and baggage arrival.

Although the center was one of the most hotly contested portions of Hahn’s plan, supporters of the center claimed that it would eliminate dropping passengers off and private vehicles from the central terminal area where flights would depart.

Opponents claimed that the ground transportation center would leave thousands of travelers centralized in one location and make them more vulnerable to a terrorist attack.

Other Alternative D proposals included a people mover at the ground transportation center to move passengers to the central terminal area and a combined rental car facility.

Villaraigosa is credited with bringing opposing groups together in September to negotiate a settlement.

In his campaign for mayor, Villaraigosa opposed the Hahn LAX Alternative D plan.

One of the main opponents to the proposed LAX expansion plan was ARSAC (Alliance for a Regional Solution to Airport Congestion) — comprised of residents living in communities near the airport.

“We’ve worked toward this for 11 years, and I’m proud that we’ve come this far in the process,” said former ARSAC president and current member of the Los Angeles Board of Airport Commissioners Val Velasco.

“I’m not speaking on behalf of (the airport commission), but as the former president of an organization that was repeatedly told we couldn’t stand up against a giant airport and city government, and that grass-roots efforts never effect changes,” said Velasco.

“We are now anticipating a letter of “non-objection” from the FAA to Los Angeles city attorney Rocky Delgadillo in the next few weeks regarding this agreement,” said Velasco.

Denny Schneider — ARSAC vice president, LAX Community Noise Roundtable board member and Airport Affairs chair of the Westchester Neighbors Association — said he “wants to thank Villaraigosa and 11th District Councilmember Bill Rosendahl for their hard work and commitment to resolving the high profile, economic and health issues surrounding LAX.”

“I look forward to working closely with (LAX) officials to ensure a safe, secure airport that comfortably serves our traveling public while at the same time our surrounding communities are renovated into the attractive, pollution-reducing gateway that our region deserves,” said Schneider.

“This agreement in principle still needs to be signed, sealed and delivered. The devil is in the details, and neither any of the litigants nor the FAA has formally signed off on the details,” Schneider added.

Congresswoman Maxine Waters — whose district includes LAX and communities affected by airport operations — said, “I can finally breathe a sigh of relief that our great city is moving forward in the best interests of the community, travelers and the region, and I look forward to working with our city in guiding the airport’s new direction.”

Waters said that “the proposed settlement agreement creates a regional working group to plan for air traffic redistribution to other airports in the region, effectively kills the controversial passenger check-in facility at Manchester Square and hastens the demise of the so-called yellow light projects.”

As criticism of the former Hahn LAX plan grew, the various parts of the plan were divided into “green light” projects that could probably win immediate support and “yellow light” projects that would require more public input and official review.