By Gary Walker
The fight between Los Angeles World Airports and a group of residents in Westchester over the decision to move Los Angeles International Airport’s northernmost runway 260 feet toward Playa del Rey and Westchester is now moving toward what many have thought was its inevitable next stage.
The Alliance for a Regional Solution to Airport Congestion, a Westchester-based grassroots organization that has long opposed the airport’s option of moving the northernmost runway, known as Alternative 1 of the Los Angeles International Airport Specific Plan Amendment Study, has filed a lawsuit against LAWA’s environmental impact report.
The lawsuit alleges that LAWA failed to provide “adequate specific information about their construction plans” and denied the public of a fair and open review process.
“They severely understated the impacts of many environmental elements such as noise, air contamination and traffic and failed to provide mitigations for others,” the legal action states. “LAWA also ignored several potential overwhelming pitfalls such as the tunneling and moving of Lincoln Boulevard, which will close an important travel artery for an extended period, and failed to consider potentially better alternatives.”
The president of ARSAC, Westchester resident Denny Schneider, said LAWA officials are misguided in their priorities on improving the airport.
“We have been the strongest advocates for fixing and improving service at LAX. This is a sad day for Los Angeles because some people are willing to ignore reality to further special interests instead of acting responsibly,” he said.
“The LAX plan will waste billions of dollars on unnecessary airfield changes instead of updating and repairing needed
landside terminals and public access to LAX.”
The Los Angeles City Council voted 9-4 to approve Alternative 1 before a packed council chamber April 30.
The Service Employees International Union United Service Workers West filed a similar legal action on the same day that the Westchester organization did, alleging many of the same claims in its lawsuit.
“We are left with no choice but to file this challenge because we feel the people running LAX have failed time and again to listen to the voices of airport communities and workers,” said Robin Wilson, an LAX passenger service agent and SEIU USWW member. “LAX workers are among those most affected by the airport. Many of us live in neighborhoods impacted by the traffic congestion, noise and air pollution caused by airport operations. We breathe this air day in and day out and so do our families.
“Unaccountable leadership at LAX hurts us both on the job and at home.”
The city of Los Angeles is also named in the SEIU lawsuit.
LAWA Executive Director Gina Marie Lindsey, who was contacted the day after the lawsuits were announced, said the airport stands by its environmental analysis.
“We haven’t received copies of the lawsuits and cannot comment on their contents.” Lindsey said. “However, the process used to perform the necessary analysis required to assess environmental impacts is extremely thorough and we trust, that as it is reviewed, it will hold up under scrutiny.”
LAWA officials also deny that Lincoln Boulevard, one of the region’s most important north-south thoroughfares, would be shut down during construction when the runway move to the north begins. They point to an internal report that indicates any reconfiguration of the boulevard will be included in the final environmental impact report and therefore it is not accurate to predict that Lincoln will become more congested in the future.
“As indicated in the (study’s) final EIR, this realignment of Lincoln Boulevard is conceptual in nature, and considered at only a programmatic level of analysis in the EIR. Consequently, no construction phasing plans for the subject improvement have been prepared, as such plans would be more appropriately developed in conjunction with more detailed future planning and design of that project,” the report states.
“LAWA is confident that the determinations regarding Lincoln Boulevard construction, specifically, that construction would not require the complete closure of the roadway for an extended period of time, are accurate,” added LAWA spokeswoman Mary Grady.
Supporters of LAWA’s runway plans include a prominent Westside legislator, Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Venice), who also represents parts of nearby Playa del Rey.
“I support the modernization plan at Los Angeles International Airport. The FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) has stated that airport ‘safety and efficiency would be greatly improved by further separating the two runways and building a center taxiway between them,’” Waxman told The Argonaut on April 2.
The Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce and the LAX Coastal Area Chamber also back the runway move, as do various labor organizations. The local chamber’s decision led many longtime members to cancel their memberships, including the Westchester-based Drollinger Properties.
Neighborhood Council of Westchester-Playa President Cyndi Hench thinks the controversy surrounding the runway expansion did not have to culminate in legal action.
“I think that LAWA could have avoided this and I think the City Council could have avoided this had they chosen to work with ARSAC,” Hench said. “I think ARSAC is doing the responsible thing after LAWA and the City Council chose to ignore them.”
The possibility of legal action against the airport has been hanging in the air for some time.
Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Westchester) appeared to encourage her constituents to seek legal relief at a rally days after the council voted to approve Alternative 1.
“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.’”
Schneider’s group sued LAWA several years ago over a former master plan and won several concessions through a settlement agreement.
The SEIU legal action also named Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.
Westchester: Dual lawsuits target LAWA environmental analysis of north runway move
By Gary Walker