Over 300 community members atteded a standing-room-only town hall meeting, with many of them angry and telling Los Angeles World Airports (LAWA) officials that they would not tolerate moving the North Airfield Complex runways at LAX (Los Angeles International Airport) into Westchester and Playa del Rey.
Two speakers beseeched Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa (although he did not attend the meeting) to intercede in the proposed runway reconfiguration issue.
The town hall meeting was implemented and chaired by Los Angeles City Councilman Bill Rosendahl, whose 11th District includes LAX, Westchester and Playa del Rey, and was held Tuesday, June 5th, at the Westchester Senior Center.
Five studies had been commissioned by Los Angeles World Airports, the city airport agency, to address runway safety and incursions and the accommodation of the new larger aircraft such as the Airbus A380 at LAX, with study highlights presented to the Los Angeles Board of Airport Commissioners at its meeting Monday, June 4th, at the LAX administration building.
Rosendahl has been resolute in his opposition to any perceived expansion at LAX, and he submitted a Los Angeles City Council motion the day after the town hall meeting to request that Los Angeles World Airports officials work with a panel of community representatives to select an “objective firm to conduct a more comprehensive study that examines alternatives to runway movement.”
The study would be required to focus only on safety issues, recommend a range of potential solutions to any identified problems, and specifically examine the feasibility of an end-around taxiway system, according to Rosendahl’s representatives.
Rosendahl called these previous safety studies “highly suspect” and said they were performed in a cursory manner by aviation insiders. He said he remains “unconvinced by bogus arguments” in favor of moving runways north into Westchester and Playa del Rey.
Rosendahl also called on the Board of Airport Commissioners to examine the results of the new study he is requesting before releasing formal proposals for LAX modernization.
The motion was referred to the City Council Trade, Commerce and Tourism Committee.
Rosendahl told the audience that the meeting was a “significant beginning of a new day” with this first public meeting for a modern future for LAX, and that he would continue to hold public meetings on the subject over the months and perhaps years, but the primary goal is regionalization and not expansion at LAX.
The agenda of the town hall meeting offered presentations by LAWA officials, the Alliance for a Regional Solution to Airport Congestion (ARSAC) president Denny Schneider, David Voss of the Westchester-Playa del Rey Neighborhood Council, Karen Dial of H.B. Drollinger, and input from the public at the end of the meeting.
Representatives of Congresswomen Maxine Waters (35th District) and Jane Harman (36th District), and California State Assemblymembers Ted Lieu (53rd District) and Curren Price (51st District) voiced their support for the community position.
In a letter to her constituents, Waters calls on Villaraigosa to “keep his commitment to airport neighbors and direct LAWA to abandon this expansion plan immediately.”
Los Angeles County Fourth District Supervisor Don Knabe issued a statement expressing his “disappointment in the conclusion of LAX runway studies.”
Eighth District City Councilman Bernard Parks attended the meeting in support of Rosendahl’s stand and on behalf of the communities involved.
Parks said that the community won’t be abused by another iteration of something that was supposedly decided on before, and that it’s time to send a message.
AIRPORT OFFICIALS — officials of Los Angeles World Airports who attended included Jim Ritchie, Mike Doucette, Raymond Jack and Nick Johnson.
Ritchie, deputy director of long-range planning, discussed runway safety and incursions, and said the studies presented a range of alternatives to fix the LAX problems where a design solution is necessary.
The environmental study would take approximately 24 months to complete, said Ritchie.
Massive airline terminal demolition is not feasible, and Runway 24R on the North Airfield Complex needs to be moved a minimum of 340 feet north, said Ritchie.
Raymond Jack, manager of airport operations, said that the airport agency has already done work to mitigate problems and enhance safety at LAX.
He cited pilot and mechanic training, technology upgrades and radar implementation, enhanced markings and lighting systems on the runways, and testing of new lighting systems and runway status lights.
Jack also said that the recent relocation of the southernmost runway to the south on the South Airfield Complex and the current construction of a center taxiway will greatly enhance safety.
Chief planner Doucette spoke about “end-around taxiways” and various ways to move aircraft around the airfield. He said the end-around taxiway works, without requiring a center taxiway, and he noted that the departure capacity at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport saw a 21 percent departure capacity increase with the end-around taxiway.
Doucette said he knows the community is sensitive about capacity increases, but that the safety issue is also important.
An end-around taxiway is intended to enable aircraft to taxi around a runway without suspending runway operations, as is required with today’s runway crossings, according to MITRE, a nonprofit corporation that does studies for government agencies.
The typical end-around taxiway provides a path around the end of an inboard runway passing beyond the extended centerline of that runway, according to MITRE documentation.
WESTCHESTER BUSINESS DISTRICT COMMENTS — Karen Dial, the daughter of the late H.B. Drollinger of Westchester, said her grandmother built the Westchester Business District from nothing, and that her father revitalized Westchester after over 3,000 homes were taken by the original airport expansion.
Dial said she and the company are “in it for the long haul” and they “aren’t about to let 35 years go down the drain.”
Alliance for a Regional Solution to Airport Congestion president Schneider paired up for a joint presentation with Voss, saying, “Look at the unity of the community on this issue, the groups in the community (ARSAC, the Neighborhood Council) see this as a whitewash.”
Schneider said the community has been under siege for a lot of years.
Referring to an agreement in late 2005 among four cities, ARSAC and the airport agency to suspend the LAX Masterplan that promised to minimize environmental impacts on surrounding communities, Schneider and Voss said the “settlement is broken,” and they asked if moving the airport toward the community is “mitigation.”
All of the litigants in the settlement with the City of Los Angeles regarding LAX compromised, but LAWA gave up noth- ing, and if LAWA moves the runway protection zone just one inch north, “they get another bite of the apple, without any reassurance that there won’t be any more movement,” Schneider claimed.
ARSAC POSITION — Schneider and Voss presented the following points of their position on the proposed North Field Complex reconfiguration:
— LAWA’s proposal harms Westchester/Playa del Rey and violates the settlement agreement;
— runway separation is unnecessary and LAWA’s hidden agenda is “load balancing” (between the runways);
— the “three pillars” should be observed — (1) no ring road or design that pushes traffic into the community, (2) no further damage to the business district or additional homes, and (3) no western terminal with traffic access from the west;
— no new study should be undertaken of noise contours that would result from moving runways north and making them longer;
— the settlement is broken by LAWA’s proposal of going beyond the Alternative D worst case scenario, as it requires a new EIR (environmental impact report);
— the runway protection zone movement tears out the heart of the Westchester Business District (Lincoln and Sepulveda Boulevards);
— air traffic [at LAX] must be reduced by regionalization;
— control towers must be staffed more completely (the controllers union has called for more staff and fewer hours per controller);
— provisions must be made for runway status lights and other collision avoidance systems, in-cockpit voice warning systems, better air traffic control system equipment and better taxiway and runway signage;
— runway incursions are not prevented by a center taxiway; incursions have been controller/ pilot error not mitigated by runway changes;
— there must be health and safety improvements regarding air, noise pollution;
— none of the studies address inadequate taxiways along terminals and all dismiss moving runway south;
— the studies don’t consider end-around runway; all studies push for operational efficiency and capacity enhancement; and
— the studies don’t answer the basic question of the north complex being safe, and no set of alternatives is identified.
UNIFIED PLAN — Voss and Schneider’s presentation discussed advantages of moving the northern runway south, with a Unified Plan, such as efficiency in operation in minimizing distances between connecting flights.
They said the new linear design of Terminals 1, 2 and 3 eliminates the need for towing on the north side and that flexibility in gate design reduces plane idling while waiting for gates and allows for extending and widening 24L to balance aircraft loads on runways.
The Unified Plan would separate runways by an additional 100 feet to allow for a desired center taxiway and fix the substandard taxiways on the North Airfield, reducing controller activity and providing controllers with a greater margin of error.
The plan would also modernize facilities and improve customer service and consolidate TSA (Transportation Security Administration) and FIS (Federal Inspections Services) activities.
Under the plan, the new, large aircraft would be accommodated and the proposed back-siding of Tom Bradley International Terminal would allow quicker build-out of new, larger aircraft gates.
Voss said that under the Unified Plan the impact on the community would be minimized and it wouldn’t destroy additional businesses.
He said the study reports are not persuasive, and he noted that that it “is easy to sell security” in the post 9/11 era.
The fact that the airport seemed to function very well when one south runway was closed for a significant period for construction and only three runways were used gives credence to the idea that one runway can be permanently removed and allow room for the new larger aircraft, said Voss and Schneider.
PUBLIC COMMENT — One local resident said he is a retired pilot who flew many aircraft without an incursion. Pilots must be trained, airlines must enforce and controllers must focus, he said.
His suggestion was that for each incursion, the airline should be fined a minimum of $1 million, and the next time, $10 million.
If the incursion is the fault of the pilot, his license should be suspended for one year, said the speaker.
Another speaker who lived in Playa del Rey starting in 1967 and moved out of his rental home one mile north after the airport officials acquired the area where he lived, asked, “What do we do? The airport people promised then that the annual passenger count would never be more than 42 million, and now he might be faced with the same problem.”
“You attend all of the meetings related to this issue,” Rosendahl interjected.
Another speaker, who said her child attends a school near the airport, suggested that an EIR (environmental impact report) be done in regard to children’s health. She said that the flight patterns changed after 9/11, and the number of premature births went up in the area.
Neighbors having unusual cancers in the 90045 zip code should interest the Center for Disease Control in these health problems, said another speaker, citing breathing problems and asthma in children and health concerns of morbidity and mortality.
CLOSING COMMENTS — At the end of the meeting, Ritchie said that all concerns voiced at the meeting would be taken back for discussion, and he pledged to the audience, “We’ll be here to meet with you.”
Schneider said he was struck by the irony that this was the same room where the public was told we would have LAX Master Plan Alternative D, and “We’re not going to have it again.”
Voss said that with the number of lawsuits filed and settled, he thought it could not get worse, and that the current situation “stretched all logic beyond contortion.”
Rosendahl said airport expansion wouldn’t “happen on his watch,” and promised to present his motion to the City Council for an independent study.
Information, www.lacity.org/ council/cd11/, and www.regional ization.org/.
To read more about LAX, see Helga Gendell’s Musings column, page 14.