Unlike the majority of the nation, California state and federal lawmakers did very well on election day last month, including Rep. Jane Harman (D-Venice).
The congresswoman, who was reelected to represent the 36th Congressional District Nov. 2, spoke with a group of reporters Nov. 12 in her El Segundo office, where she touched on a wide variety of topics, including a number of issues that her Westside constituents are concerned about.
Transportation, both air and ground, were topics that Harman discussed at length, as she represents residents on the eastern side of the Santa Monica Airport as well as near Los Angeles International Airport.
The proposed reconfiguration of the north runway at LAX has been a topic of conversation since the Federal Aviation Administration made public its recommendation to expand the runway hundreds of feet closer toward Westchester and Playa del Rey. Harman said if the north runways are unsafe, a change would have to be made. But if safety is not a concern, she said she would be less inclined to support moving the runway farther into Westchester.
“I’m watching this very closely,” she promised. “I think there are safety issues that could come into play in terms of moving the runways slightly farther apart but that won’t impact the business district of Westchester. There is room to accommodate that.”
Harman has been in discussions with Los Angeles World Airports Executive Director Gina Marie Lindsay regarding a possible reconfiguration of the runways in a north or south direction and she was aware of the collective complaints from homeowners in Westchester and Playa del Rey.
“I understand that the Westchester community is engaged and working with the airport, and that there may be some accommodation that can be reached that would satisfy my requirement that the airport is a good neighbor,” Harman said.
“I will play a role because I’m a federal official and the FAA has to sign off on this, but we’re not there yet,” the congresswoman continued. “Where we are right now is monitoring the airport’s outreach to the neighbors and I think that is going well.”
At Santa Monica Airport, homeowners who live near the airfield in both Mar Vista and Santa Monica are worried about air pollution and safety, as well as a proposal to change the current flight path that goes over Venice to a route that sends airplanes over western Santa Monica. Known as the 250-degree heading, the FAA conducted a six-month test and has yet to make a determination on any alteration of the flight path.
Harman remains firm in her belief that an environmental impact report for a proposed change in heading is necessary.
“That airport is an environmental problem,” the congresswoman asserted. “It is (extremely) noisy and the small particle pollutants affect people’s health.”
Harman said she is hoping to have the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) conduct a “serious study” on the short- and long- term effects of airport related pollutants. Homeowners on both sides of the airport have complained for years that exhaust fumes have blackened their outside furniture and windows, and many firmly believe that some anecdotal cases of increased asthma and respiratory illnesses are the result of the toxins.
Bill Koontz, the co-chair of the Mar Vista Community Council’s Airport Committee, would like to see a federal study on air pollution.
“I was very excited to hear that the EPA was coming for a visit and was going to seriously listen to the stakeholders around the airport about the issues that affect them,” Koontz wrote in an e-mail response. “For years it seems as though the only big government people concerned with the Santa Monica Airport were from the FAA, who have a different agenda than ours, theirs being ‘make the air safe to fly’ and ours, ‘make the air safe to breath.’”
Venice resident Laura Silagi is happy to hear that Harman is supportive of a full environmental study if the FAA opts for a change in the flight path.
“That’s very important to Venice,” Silagi said. “The impacts on Santa Monica are so much less than in Venice. There’s really never been an avenue to complain except to Santa Monica, and that hasn’t been very successful.
“We definitely would welcome that.”
Koontz said he was concerned about the federal government conducting its own environmental study.
“I am still a little leery about the FAA doing its own EIR. There is a pretty good chance that they will find the 250 heading change to be a good thing for the overall air traffic in the L.A. basin, which is probably what they will be looking at,” he wrote. “I’m not so sure they will be looking at quality of life issues over the skies of Santa Monica because they sure haven’t been looking at quality of life anything over Mar Vista.”
Harman recalled visiting a Los Angeles homeowner, Virginia Ernst, earlier this year and standing in her backyard to get a feel of what residents who live near the runway are experiencing.
“It wasn’t the busiest day that we picked (for air traffic), but it was really challenging to be on the receiving end of that pollution,” Harman recalled. “I am hopeful that we can work with the EPA on that as well as the new environmental impact statement based on what it shows. The public health of the people who live there is being affected now and the solutions have to happen now.”
Regarding environmental protections, the congresswoman said that Republicans might seek to undue existing laws that limit oil drilling or that protect estuaries and coastal wetlands.
“I predict that there will be no offshore drilling, and that we will continue to really show the country that there is such a thing called green jobs,” she said.
Harman says she does think there might be an attempt to reduce the EPA’s existing policies.
Nick Karno, a former chair of the Venice Neighborhood Council’s Environmental Committee, knows that Harman has a strong environmental record but pointed out that she will soon be in the minority when Republicans take control in the House in January.
“When you’re in the minority, you have to play a lot of defense,” Karno noted. “I don’t think there’s much that the Republicans can do to reverse EPA laws that will hurt the environment because of a Democratic Senate and President (Barack) Obama.
“But environmental goals that were in the process of being achieved might be threatened,” he added.
“I don’t expect President Obama to be signing laws to water down the EPA,” she said.
With the advent of a new Congress and many conservative members of the House expressing their desire to cut a variety of programs, including transportation, Harman was asked if she thought light rail projects might be curtailed.
“I think it’s going to be harder,” she said candidly about the ability to appropriate funds for Los Angeles mass transportation projects like in the 30/10 plan, which she has championed and calls her “highest legislative priority” other than jobs.
The congresswoman called the 30/10 plan “a brilliant idea” that no other city is proposing. She discussed the possibility of creating public-private partnerships for infrastructure projects and referenced a Wall Street Journal op-ed piece that detailed the potential for success with these initiatives. “I think that the Republicans should go for this,” she said.
Harman pointed out that the transportation initiative would create about 5,000 jobs next spring.
“Unemployment is highest in the construction trades in Los Angeles. It’s 40 percent,” she noted. “This is a huge problem, and if we can fix construction unemployment, we’re going to be able to take a huge whack out of the really bad unemployment numbers. I’m not against them. Our broken infrastructure is an embarrassment.”
The debate over whether to continue tax cuts for the top 2 percent of the population, composed largely of millionaires and billionaires, was another topic that the congresswoman viewed as one that the public should be aware of, and she indicated that she was not in favor of extending them to the nation’s richest citizens.
“If we take out the tax cuts for the top 2 percent before the Bush tax cuts went into effect, that saves $700 billion,” Harman said.
The congresswoman also recalled voting on controversial votes during her political career. In 1993, she voted for President Bill Clinton’s 1993 budget that contained tax increments that many economists believe helped spur the economic prosperity of the decade.
“If we’re going to face our deficit problems, we ought to face them,” she said. “I took the tough votes in the 1990s on the Clinton budget, and it was a Democrat-only vote and it was a career risking vote.
“And that’s what’s called for this time.”