From the Argonaut – By Helga Gendell
The third and final public meeting on the draft environmental impact report of Los Angeles World Airports’ (LAWA) Specific Plan Amendment Study (SPAS) was held Aug. 29 at the Proud Bird Restaurant near Los Angeles International Airport. LAWA officials have yet to announce which of nine alternative proposals they prefer, and say they will not do so until after the end of the public comment period.
During public comment, approximately 28 speakers commented on the environmental report. Speakers opposing reconfiguration of the LAX north airfield, which would move the northern runway closer to the communities of Westchester and Playa del Rey, said that Alternative 2 is the best, in conjunction with Alternative 9. They say the second option has the lowest cost, resulting in the most efficient aircraft ground movement, and believe it is environmentally superior since this alternative would not relocate the runway.
In late July, the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce, the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, the Los Angeles/Orange Counties Building and Construction Trades Council, the Central City Association of Los Angeles, the Valley Industry and Commerce Association, and the Los Angeles Economic Development Corporation, formed an alliance known as Coalition to Fix LAX Now. The new coalition had members present at all three of the meetings, and brought union leaders, union members, and business owners to the table.
“After nearly 20 years of studies and planning to fix LAX, we felt enough is enough and we needed to put the full report of the business community behind ensuring that our elected officials make the necessary decisions to give L.A. a 21st century airport,” said Gary Toebben, president and CEO of the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce.
“It is anticipated that once the north airfield runway issue has been resolved, a series of capital improvement projects totaling an additional $8.5 billion can be scheduled for the future – none of which will be paid for by taxpayers.”
The group has expressed some support for moving of the north runway, saying, “recent safety studies have concluded that separation of the north airfield will increase airfield safety by as much as 55 percent.”
But a study released in February 2010 by an academic panel in conjunction with NASA-Ames has disputed that claim, stating that the north runways at LAX are safe and their current configuration should not be changed. The study was commissioned in May 2008 at a cost of $1.4 million by the Los Angeles Board of Airport Commissioners.
Some community members have claimed that the business groups have not taken into account the results of the safety study.
On Sept. 3, Los Angeles City Councilman Bill Rosendahl, who represents the LAX area and has been receiving treatment for cancer, told The Argonaut, “I want all of my constituents and friends to know that I’m in extremely great spirits and appreciate their prayers and good wishes.
“On the matter of LAX and the SPAS DEIR, I appreciate the motivation that the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce and other individuals have regarding the economic engine that LAX is in bringing dollars into Los Angeles. We in Southern California are the biggest megalopolis in the world, with more people and a robust market.
“I strongly believe in Measure R [which funds critical transit and highway projects] and it’s a dramatic game changer,” the councilman continued. “The Green Line and Metro Line coming into LAX, and getting Ontario (International Airport) online for a link to the Metro, would build a closer relationship between the airports, a more robust economy for the entire region, and travelers wouldn’t have to spend long periods of time trying to get to one particular airport.”
By allowing Ontario International Airport to participate in regionalization, the economic benefit would be realized throughout the region, he said.
Regarding the safety issue still being raised about moving the northern runway, Rosendahl said, “We’ve done the study from every angle. The northern airfield is safe and doesn’t need to be reconfigured. If there is new information, I want to hear it. I am happy to sit down with anyone who has new input on this issue.”
Denny Schneider, president of the Alliance for a Regional Solution to Airport Congestion (ARSAC), which has consistently fought relocation of the north runway, told The Argonaut that “No runway movement is supported by the LAWA Environmental Table 4.7-2-8, which states, ‘Compliance with FAA Airport Design Standards – the larger aircraft are more acceptably handled by Alternative 2, no additional runway spacing.’ When you consider this is also designated the ‘Environmentally Superior Alternative,’ the decision should be a no-brainer. Now let’s see what’s chosen.”
Schneider explained that Alternative 2 lengthens Runway 24 East, improves taxiways for ground safety and efficient flow, and improves terminals. None of the options create significant capacity increases nor fix vehicle traffic flow, he said.
Schneider, a Westchester resident, has consistently argued that LAWA needs to repair the infrastructure at LAX before other projects are undertaken, and that more money could be made by contractors on that repair. Schneider claims the proposed north runway reconfiguration by 340 feet north may be illegal under the stipulated settlement agreement (in March 2006, LAWA established the LAX SPAS Advisory Committee in compliance with the settlement agreement).
“We’ve been working to fix LAX for years. We need to fix the LAX terminals and Central Terminal Area ASAP. We dodged a bullet two weeks ago when the earthquakes in Westchester were small. We might not be as lucky next time,” Schneider said.
“LAX is unfriendly on several levels – getting to it, getting through it, getting out, and navigating among terminals. This master plan fails miserably,” he claimed. “Portions of LAX are crumbling and unsafe. Green light projects remain unstarted, and those are jobs deferred. In this failing economy we can’t afford it, especially when landside projects have an eight-time greater economic impact than airfield ones.”
Both Schneider and other speakers at the meeting said the real need is for mass transit into LAX, rather than just a bus, and the need for a consolidated rental car facility was also paramount.
Speakers opposed to runway reconfiguration said they are in favor of modernization at LAX, but not expansion. Several speakers said they fully support union workers who work at LAX, but noted that it’s also a right for homeowners who live near the airport to want clean air, less noise pollution, good health, and quality of life.
One of the speakers was an aircraft mechanic at LAX who has lived near the airport for 26 years. He said he was tired of hearing about a center taxiway for the north airfield complex.
“We rarely use it on the south side when we taxi aircraft back and forth, and it will never be used on the north side,” he said.
He also stated that reconfiguration of Runway 6L/24R is not needed, and recommended a system that is used at Orlando’s airport, where the emphasis is not on arrivals and departures at the terminals. He said the Florida airport has four different levels for vehicles, with one level for taxis/limos, a second for buses and shuttle vans, rental cars on another level, and pick-up and drop-off for travelers on another level, adding that a rail line would streamline the process even more.
Also in attendance was former Board of Airport Commissioners member Alan Rothenberg. He spoke twice, once to give his input, and the second time on behalf of Peter Ueberroth, the organizer of the 1984 summer Olympics in Los Angeles, for which LAX was most recently modernized.
Rothenberg had stepped down in early December 2010 after requesting that the Los Angeles city attorney review his business ties to a restaurant chain, California Pizza Kitchen that was involved in bids for concession contracts at LAX. At the time, Rothenberg served on the CPK board and owned approximately $1 million of the company’s stock.
After the city attorney confirmed that it did present a conflict of interest, Rothenberg chose to step down rather than delay concession contracts for the Tom Bradley International West Terminal.
Rothenberg spoke very forcefully about supporting the reconfiguration of the north runway 340 feet north because he “wouldn’t want blood on his hands for making the wrong decision on runway safety that resulted in a fatal crash.”
He read from a statement by Ueberroth, saying that he supports a modern LAX, and that it should be a world-class airport. Ueberroth’s letter also stated that he would like to see the Olympics return to Los Angeles.
Former longtime Playa del Rey resident Robert Acherman, said that as a current Torrance resident he is also impacted by LAX, with low-flying aircraft headed for Asia and Australia. The gridlock on the 405 Freeway is also exacerbated by LAX traffic, he said. Acherman noted that he has family and many friends in Westchester-Playa del Rey, and that the community is a “hidden gem” where friendly generations raise families, and they live, work and play in these communities.
“There are many problems in the SPAS DEIR, but with the lack of time, I will have to put my comments into writing,” said Acherman. “Alternative 2 plus Alternative 9 provide the best cost benefits for the airlines, and there are less environmental impacts. LAWA needs to do more to make good on its legal obligation on the stipulated settlement agreement to promote regionalization of air services in Ontario and Palmdale.
“LAX can’t be and shouldn’t be the only major gateway in and out of Southern California. if we had a major earthquake, how would people get into and out of the area if LAX was closed. That’s why we need more capacity at Ontario and Palmdale now.”
One speaker pointed out that “the LAX safety study projects that the risk of a runway incursion crash on the north airfield as it’s currently laid out is once every 200 years, and the much-touted 50 percent reduction in crash risk of the runway being moved 340 feet north means that the crash risk would decrease to once in every 300 to 400 years. The study concluded that the negligible improvement in safety did not justify the cost of moving the runways.”
Another speaker told the union members and representatives, “We are allies of labor, a living wage, and we support more jobs and modernization of the airport, but we don’t support runways being moved, encroaching on neighborhoods. LAX has not been a good neighbor, and their contractors haven’t been good employers to you. You should be our allies in stopping the runway being relocated.”
Union representatives from Local 300 and Local 12 said they represent several thousand members who work at the airport in various capacities and wanted to see the airport modernized. A representative for the LA/Orange County Construction Trade Council said he represents 140,000 members and supports the SPAS. Some union members also spoke, saying they looked forward to more jobs with the modernization of LAX. None of these speakers referred to any one of the SPAS alternatives as a preference.
A longtime Playa del Rey resident told The Argonaut, “I thought the homeowners were clearly facing a stacked deck since the airport managed to (among other things) gerrymander a statistic that stated that there would be no increase in those affected by noise from LAX if the runway were moved 340 feet to the north. This blatant lie was backed up with facts and figures from the EIR – if they route more flights to the northern complex and away from the southern, fewer folks in El Segundo will be affected.
“When you’re facing that kind of institutionalized fact-bending from an entity as powerful as LAX, it would seem that a few people armed with common sense would be unlikely to succeed in pushing for a reasonable modernization plan that did not include the destruction of their neighborhood, particularly when the entities most likely to profit from this construction boondoggle are, ‘big surprise,’ the largest contributors to city politicians.”
For those unable to attend the three public meetings, a virtual meeting will be available to explore the meeting boards online and submit comments from Monday, Sept. 10 to Wednesday, Oct. 10.
Written comments can be sent by Oct. 10 to Diego Alvarez, SPAS Program Director, Los Angeles World Airports, 1 World Way, Room 218, Los Angeles, 90045, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
According to the SPAS, the project alternatives include:
Alternatives 1 and 2 are both fully integrated, consisting of airfield, terminal and ground access components. Alternative 1 would move the north runway 6L/24R 260 feet north, add a centerfield taxiway, and extend the runway 6R/24L, among other changes. Alternative 2 does not propose a northerly relocation of Runway 6L/24R, or a southerly relocation of Runway 6R/24L. It doesn’t include a centerfield taxiway, but does include the modification and addition of high-speed runway exits (taxiways) to enhance the safe and efficient movement of arriving aircraft.
Many of the improvements associated with Alternative 2 are the same as those associated with Alt. 1. Because there would be no northerly relocation of Runway 6L/24R, it doesn’t require the modifications to the Argo Drainage Channel (other than those required under existing conditions to meet federal runway safety area requirements) and Lincoln Boulevard as in Alternative 1.
Alternative 3 is the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) “No Project” Alternative and represents what would reasonably be expected to occur in the foreseeable future if the LAX Master Plan (Alternative D) and all of the improvements were implemented as originally envisioned, according to SPAS documentation.
Alternative 4 represents what would reasonably be expected to occur if all ongoing and reasonably foreseeable non-yellow light improvements identified in the Alt. D Master Plan were implemented, and none of the yellow light projects or any of the identified alternatives to the LAX Master Plan Program were constructed or implemented, according to the SPAS. These original yellow light projects included a ground transportation center (GTC), automated people mover (APM)2 from the GTC to the Central Terminal Area, demolition of Terminals 1, 2, and 3, north runway reconfiguration, including center taxiways, and on-site road improvements associated with the GTC and APM 2.
Alternative 5 focuses on airfield and associated terminal improvements, and would move the Runway 6/24R 350 feet north. Alternative 6 also focuses on airfield and associated terminal improvement and would move the northern runway 6L/24R 100 feet north. Alternative 7 also focuses on airfield and associated terminal improvements, and would move Runway 6R/24L 100 feet south.
Alternative 8 focuses on ground access improvements that could be integrated in place of the improvements proposed under Alternatives 1 through 4, and is compatible with the airfield and terminal improvements associated with Alternatives 1, 2, 5, 6 and 7.
Alternative 9 is similar to Alternative 8, and focuses on ground access improvements that could be integrated in place of the improvements under Alternatives 1 through 4. This alternative is compatible with the airfield and terminal improvements associated with Alternatives 1, 2, 5, 6, and 7. The distinguishing features of this alternative are the development of an automated people mover system, instead of a busway, along 98th Street, and development of a consolidated rental car facility (CONRAC) in addition to parking at Manchester Square (northeast of the intersection of Aviation and Century boulevards).
The APM would be located within an elevated/dedicated corridor on the same alignment as the busway under the other alternatives. Within the central terminal area, the people mover would be located on a new, elevated guideway. All other ground access aspects of this alternative are comparable to those of Alternatives 1 and 2, with the exception of the realignment of Lincoln Boulevard, which is only associated with the airfield improvement alternatives.