At the second community workshop on the LAX (Los Angeles International Airport) Northside Area Plan July 22nd, T. Keith Gurnee of RRM Design Group reported on the results of the first workshop in February.
This second public workshop, in the Westchester High School auditorium, was held to share the results of the first workshop and to gain more input from the public on what they would like included in the proposed development.
Officials of Los Angeles World Airports (LAWA, the agency that operates the city’s four airports, including LAX) and Los Angeles City Councilman Bill Rosendahl, whose 11th Council District includes LAX, coordinated the series of public workshops, and RRM Design Group was hired to help facilitate a community-inspired plan for sensible land use of the airport-owned property to the north of LAX at Westchester Parkway.
Gurnee said the Los Angeles Department of City Planning is now involved in the project to assist in urban planning for the proposed development of the property.
The property consists of approximately 340 acres and is bounded by the LAX security fence, Westchester Parkway, Lincoln Boulevard, Sepulveda Westway and Pershing Drive.
Gurnee, who facilitated the February workshop, said that at that workshop, two topics dominated as issues of greatest importance — open space/environmental restoration/active recreation, and traffic and circulation.
The third-most-important issue was northside land use, the subject of the meeting, with participants showing a strong interest in allowing no more development or commercial uses, as well as completing the Westchester Golf Course.
Some of the specified land uses that received support included a dog park, parks, soccer fields, a police substation, native habitat restoration, senior multipurpose center/housing, and the plan developed by the UCLA Landscape Architecture Program, “In the Shadow of LAX: Balancing an Airport Environment with Community and Habitat.”
Restoration of the golf course ranked fourth in importance, supporting the use of recycled water, along with support for the golf course plan proposed in the UCLA study.
Fifth in importance was a public outreach process to understand the plans for the proposed LAX expansion, soliciting more media coverage from the Los Angeles Times, providing a process with multiple steps and feedback, public participation, including blogs and a Web site, involvement of the business community and environmental documentation at the federal and state level.
The Westchester Business District ranked sixth, with the strongest desire for “no condemnation,” and “no more ‘big box’ stores.”
“Neighborhood interfacing” ranked seventh, with commenters strongly supporting the concept of a greenbelt and berming with landscaping on the perimeter of the project area, trees and gardens, sloped sand dunes, picnic areas and security stations at the airport edge.
Ranking eighth, “community amenities” included expanding soundproofing of homes, fixing sidewalks, providing athletic fields, trimming trees, improving street maintenance and not increasing multifamily housing.
The ninth category, “addressing potential impacts, other issues and ideas,” provided the opportunity to address those issues and ideas not covered elsewhere. There was strong support for control of airplane takeoffs and landings at night and preparation of a health impact study was high. A desire to decrease airplane fuel dumping was noted, as well as not wanting the Airbus A380 or a liquid natural gas (LNG) terminal.
The meeting began with Rosendahl speaking about regionalization and he said that a fair percentage of LAX passengers are from Orange County.
LAX is the least expensive airport for airlines to utilize, said Rosendahl, and costs should be passed on to the airlines, which could result in Ontario International Airport being utilized more by the individuals residing there instead of coming to LAX.
Rosendahl urged the audience to “stay like a hawk with your eyes on this project and remain strong and vigilant.”
“The community comes first, and I have a continued commitment to this community,” Rosendahl said.
Rosendahl said he supports a proposed Los Angeles half-cent sales tax increase that would allow a ballot measure in November for transit projects such as the Metro Green Line connection to LAX and other areas.
Bernard Parks, Los Angeles City Councilman for the Eighth District, addressed the audience as well.
Residents in his district believe the problems with the airport affect just a small part of the city, said Parks, but the truth is that it is a citywide issue, with the constant push/pull of late flights, noise, pollution and health issues.
Parks said he supports modernization but not expansion of LAX, and is waiting for the latest safety study to be performed by NASA and several university professors knowledgeable in aviation.
LAX brings in significant revenue to the city, and part of the modernization should be connecting the Green Line to other transit lines for public transport, said Parks.
He also said he joins Rosendahl in supporting the half-cent sales tax measure to fund transit projects.
Roger Johnson, deputy executive director of environmental affairs at LAWA, said plans are under way to add the three holes to the Westchester Golf Course that were removed during previous property acquisitions and that they are working with American Golf on the project.
“The current golf course is 58 acres and was formerly 78 acres,” said Edgar Saenz, representative on LAX issues for U.S. Congresswoman Maxine Waters. “The addition of 20 acres returns the Westchester Golf Course to its original size.”
Asked what the budget is for the northside development, Johnson said there is no specific budget and that it is “revenue neutral.”
Los Angeles World Airports is foregoing revenue opportunities it would have leasing out the northside property by asking for a balanced land use and offsetting revenues elsewhere on LAWA property to pay for this particular development, Johnson said.
The property can’t produce revenue for the city under federal regulations with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).
During public comment, Robert van de Hoek said the northside area could be restored to a wildlife habitat, and that if airport officials want balanced land use, there are invisible benefits to open spaces with the potential of saving millions by not spending, such as “eco-system services,” including run-off facilities, offering a blend of ecology and business.
He also recommended utilizing the UCLA study for the proposed project.
Environmentalist Marcia Hanscom said she was surprised that the city airport agency is not using a significant amount of land that is fenced off, and that she is stunned that this agency is not talking about “mitigating these things.”
“We badly need open space and community-serving business to restore some of the lost quality of life that resulted from prior airport expansions,” said Denny Schneider, president of Alliance for a Regional Solution to Airport Congestion (ARSAC) and a longtime Westchester resident. “Far too often I’ve heard community members question LAWA’s motives.
“I’m pleased that LAWA is considering community desires when designating construction projects on the northside development areas. Let it never be forgotten that this area used to be family homes.”
Some of the public comments went outside the immediate project, such as moving the northern runway by 340 feet north and the possibility of putting a bus turnaround at Manchester Avenue and Sepulveda Boulevard.
One speaker said there are too many buses in that area and that a majority of the bus riders were transferring at that point. She asked that Los Angeles World Airports, the community and bus companies get together and discuss a solution.
One Playa Vista resident said he was “mad as hell” and that if the workshop was designed to drive people away, it had been successful.
He said there is a “seismic shift in airport business” — airlines canceling flights, domestic airlines decreasing business and some leaving the airport, the high cost of fuel — and LAX could be modernized and safe with less air traffic during what he called “this terrible financial crisis” in the economy.
Meeting participants were asked to place stickers labeled A through K (for the 11 categories of interest) on posters specifying support or opposition to various northside development parameters.
Results from this meeting will be incorporated with the first workshop results and will be presented at a future workshop yet to be scheduled.