Wednesday, December 8, 2004

Council OKs LAX master plan
County moves toward legal action to block city
By Rick Orlov and Troy Anderson - Staff Writers

The $11 billion modernization and expansion plan for Los Angeles International Airport won overwhelming support Tuesday from the City Council even as county officials took steps to block the controversial project in court.

In a series of 12-3 votes, the City Council voted to proceed with Mayor James Hahn's plan, which includes runway and terminal improvements in its first phase. A final vote is scheduled for next Tuesday.

Hahn, his voice raspy from a cold, joined with council members, other city officials and community representatives to praise the action.

"Today, the city took a step forward in creating a safer, more secure airport," Hahn said. "This is an historic day and a major milestone for Los Angeles International Airport."

Councilwoman Cindy Miscikowski, who partnered with Hahn to develop the "consensus plan," said it was time for the city to act. The proposal has been 10 years in the making and underwent a major revision after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

"In some respects this has been like the movie, 'Groundhog Day,"' Miscikowski said. "We would have a study, then an election, then another study and another election. We are being urged to study this more. Now is the time for us to act."

Councilmen Bernard Parks and Antonio Villaraigosa -- who are running against Hahn next March -- joined with Councilman Jack Weiss in voting against the plan.

"What could $9 billion or $11 billion in investment do in Ontario or Palmdale?" Villaraigosa asked, referring to other city-owned airports. "We could be creating good, solid, well-paying jobs in those areas."

Parks questioned what was being done to help Los Angeles residents who live under the LAX flight path.

A $500 million community-benefits plan, scheduled to be considered next week, would provide soundproofing to homes and schools, air pollution controls and job training for neighboring Inglewood and Lennox.

"Los Angeles residents aren't getting any relief from this," Parks said. "We aren't receiving any of the benefits."

The council's overwhelming approval overrides the vote of the Los Angeles County Airport Land Use Commission, which had found the project violated its master plan.

To counter that, the Board of Supervisors authorized legal action to block any final city plan, even as Miscikowski said she hoped a lawsuit can be averted.

"This plan, now known as the 'consensus plan,' does not enjoy consensus in our region," Supervisor Don Knabe said. "While the board supports the broad objectives of a safe, secure and modernized LAX that could accommodate up to 78 million annual passengers, it has been consistent in its opposition to the current master plan."

The supervisors and other interested agencies have raised numerous objections to the master plan and the environmental impact report, which uses a 1996 baseline to make noise and air quality assessments. Critics also raised concerns about proposed security measures.

The city has not directly addressed the county's concerns about security, the future demands for passenger and cargo service or the ability to cap growth at LAX at 78 million passengers a year, Knabe said. He reiterated the county's concerns about plans for an off-site passenger check-in site, which has been placed in a "yellow light" category that will require further study.

"Rather than consider these issues now before taking final action, the city has pushed forward with its consensus plan without full study, analysis and public dialogue regarding these important issues, and has instead promised to do more study and analysis later," Knabe said.

And while Los Angeles reached out to neighboring cities, it has not made similar efforts with the county, Knabe said. Miscikowski, however, said talks with the county have been ongoing.

Hahn said he hoped the city and county could work something out.

"I'm disappointed they would choose litigation," Hahn said.

Councilman Tony Cardenas, who had originally voiced skepticism over the plan, said improvements must be made.

"This is about public safety, it's about public perception," Cardenas said. "It's about our responsibility to the community at large in Los Angeles and beyond."

Councilman Dennis Zine said the city needs to deal with the present problems as well as those in the future.

"We all can support regional airports, but the fact of the matter is people are going to continue to use LAX," Zine said. "We can't put up a border and keep people out. But what we can do is make it better for people."

Council President Alex Padilla said it was important for the council to approve the project.

"I said at the beginning of this year, it was time for us to act," Padilla said. "For us to not do this would have been an opportunity lost. It would have been a failure."

Rick Orlov, (213) 978-0390


Here is how the Los Angeles City Council voted on Tuesday on the proposed $11 billion LAX modernization plan:

Yes: Cardenas, Garcetti, Greuel, Hahn, LaBonge, Ludlow, Miscikowski, Padilla, Perry, Reyes, Smith, Zine

No: Parks, Villaraigosa, Weiss

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