By Gary Walker
Westsiders who are in opposition to a Los Angeles International Airport modernization plan that would move its northernmost runway 260 feet towards Westchester and Playa del Rey erupted in cheers when Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Westchester) encouraged her constituents and their supporters to strongly consider suing Los Angeles World Airports at a May 4 community meeting held in the wake of a largely unpopular vote by the Los Angeles City Council.
The council voted 10-3 April 30 in favor of LAWA’s Specific Plan Amendment Study and two alternatives, including Alternative 1, which authorizes separating the airport’s north runways and constructing a center taxiway between them. Councilman Bill Rosendahl, who represents Westchester, was one of the three nay votes.
More than 100 people attended the May 4 community meeting to plan their next strategy in the aftermath of the council vote. The overarching message of the rally was that the participants’ fierce opposition to the airport’s runway separation strategy remains unbowed and they are getting ready for the next phase of their battle with LAWA.
“The fight’s not over… the fight’s not over because I think we know our way into the courtroom,” Waters said to thunderous applause.
“What I like about Westchester is this: Westchester is an organized community, not afraid to use its resources to get justice for the community.
“We need to tell LAWA that we’re not victims; you’re not fighting helpless people, we know what to do,” she added.
“So, ladies and gentlemen, I’m saying to you here and now based on that vote that was taken at the City Council, ‘let’s dig in our pockets, let’s get our money together, let’s go to court and let’s fight.’”
Inglewood Mayor and former Santa Monica Police Chief James Butts also expressed his city’s opposition to the airport plan.
“There must be some other engineering alternative to moving the runway than exposing more people to air traffic noise,” said Butts, who is also a former LAX law enforcement executive.
The Inglewood mayor said his constituents are also at risk of suffering air pollution and noise, and his council has filed objections to the runway plan.
Denny Schneider, a Westchester resident who heads the Alliance for a Regional Solution to Airport Congestion, an organization that advocates for regional efforts to Southern California commercial aviation, was not surprised to hear comments and apparent support for a possible lawsuit against LAWA.
“I would expect us to be talking about it,” he said before the meeting. “We’re hoping that things will be resolved before then, but one way or another, we will have an airport that’s fixed.”
Supporters of the modernization plan have included business organizations as well as some organized labor groups. The Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce has been a staunch supporter of Alternative 1.
“This was one of the most significant votes that the City Council has taken,” Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Gary Toebeen told The Argonaut. “This will impact the economy of Los Angeles for years to come.
“We finally have a plan that will move us forward on a longtime plan to modernize the runways and terminals at LAX.”
In addition to the downtown chamber and labor groups, the LAX Coastal Area Chamber of Commerce is also on record with supporting Alternative 1.
LAWA Executive Director Gina Marie Lindsey applauded the City Council for its vote.
“I give the council a great deal of credit for going ahead and recognizing that we have to make long-term decisions for the good of the city. LAX could lose its competitive advantage if it does not update its runways. The current proposal, which will not require the airport to acquire any additional land, is a compromise,” Lindsey said. “Under the current north runway configuration, the airport must slow its operations when large planes like the A-380 land on the northernmost runway.”
Waters was not the only elected leader to address possible litigation. Councilman-elect Mike Bonin, who will succeed Rosendahl in Council District 11 in July, also hinted at that possibility. He also made what amounted to a campaign pitch for City Councilman Eric Garcetti, who voted against the modernization plan and has publicly opposed moving the runways.
Garcetti and City Controller Wendy Greuel will face off May 21 in the city’s mayoral race and Bonin, who supports the councilman’s mayoral bid, said “only one candidate has stood up and said, ‘I am with Westchester, I am with Playa del Rey, I oppose moving this runway.’
“There is one thing that you can do right now to stop the movement of this runway and it is four words: vote for Eric Garcetti,” he told the audience.
Greuel’s campaign has stated the candidate wants to examine the matter more closely.
Playa del Rey resident Craig Eggers is happy that Waters, who also represents his beachside community, has taken a very defined, unflinching stance against the runway plan. But he and others are disheartened that another Westside federal legislator, Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Venice), has sided with the airport.
“Knowing your strong stance concerning environmental justice for residents adjacent to Santa Monica Airport who are impacted by excessive air and noise pollution, when will you take a stand regarding the exact same issues in support of your constituents in Playa del Rey?” Eggers, the chair of the Neighborhood Council of Westchester-Playa’s Airport Relations Committee, said he asked Waxman recently.
The congressman could not be reached for comment.
Westchester and Playa del Rey residents have been joined by their contemporaries from other Westside communities, including Venice and Mar Vista, as well as many from the South Bay to oppose the airport’s proposal.
This, according to Schneider, proves that opposition to the runway move goes far beyond Playa del Rey and Westchester.
“It has never been just about us,” he said. “That’s how LAWA has tried to portray us – that we’re just a bunch of NIMBYs (not in my back yard).”
Lindsey said the runway move could have been worse.
“The (Federal Aviation Administration) recommended the runways be moved an additional 350 feet apart, which would have further encroached on Westchester,” she noted. “We were not shooting for the moon here.
“We tried very hard to scrub the numbers to only identify the runway separation necessary for safe and efficient movements for all of the aircraft in most of the operating conditions.”
Waters, who earlier in the day attended a Cinco de Mayo celebration in her district, drew a David-and-Goliath-like comparison between the Mexican fight for independence against the French Army and the latter day struggle against LAWA by the contingent of local homeowners and their supporters.
Celebrated as Cinco de Mayo (May 5) in the United States, the 1862 Battle of Puebla was an inspirational victory for the undermanned Mexican Army against the occupying French forces, who were considered the superior army.
“The Mexicans had very little to resist with,” the congresswoman told the audience. “They didn’t have guns. They didn’t have tanks. They didn’t have much of anything, but the French Army had everything.
“But guess what? They beat them back and the Mexicans won,” Waters continued. “So the lesson is this: if you’re committed, if you’re determined, if you believe in what you do, no matter how big the opposition is you can win.”
Last month Schneider’s wife, Nancy, who was equally involved in the runway fight over the years as her husband, passed away. He said giving up now would dishonor her memory.
“Nan would be rolling over in her grave if she knew (how the council voted),” he said