Tuesday, January 4, 2005

El Segundo Sues Over LAX Plan
City alleges Los Angeles' environmental studies failed to adequately analyze traffic, noise and other effects on nearby communities.
By Jennifer Oldham - Times Staff Writer

The city of El Segundo sued the city of Los Angeles on Monday, claiming that environmental studies completed for a Los Angeles International Airport modernization plan failed to adequately analyze air pollution, traffic, noise and other effects on surrounding communities.

In a 12-page petition, filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court, El Segundo's attorneys argue that in a rush to approve the $11-billion plan, Los Angeles violated state environmental law.

State law requires airports to complete an environmental impact report, or EIR, with expansion plans to identify measures that will ease the effects on surrounding communities.

"The great quantities of time and money expended by the parties in the LAX Master Plan environmental review process have not resulted in a high-quality, or even an adequate, EIR," the petition filed by San Francisco-based Shute, Mihaly & Weinberger states. "In fact, the environmental documentation leaves many of the public's concerns unaddressed and questions unanswered."

El Segundo's lawsuit is the first of several expected this week from residents and cities near the world's fifth-busiest airport. Under state law, the parties have until Friday to challenge the plan. The Alliance for a Regional Solution to Airport Congestion, a group that represents residents living around LAX, plans to file suit Thursday. Los Angeles County officials said they would file by Friday.

The city of Inglewood has also threatened to sue.

El Segundo's lawsuit against the Los Angeles City Council, Mayor James K. Hahn, Los Angeles World Airports and the Airport Commission, asks the court to order them to conduct an additional environmental review. The suit also requests that the court bar Los Angeles from starting work until it complies with state environmental law.

The City Council last month overwhelmingly approved Hahn's plan to renovate the airport. The proposal, in two phases, calls for a transit hub, an elevated train and a consolidated rental-car center, along with moving the airport's southernmost runway closer to El Segundo. Airport officials hope to start construction on the runway later this year.

Los Angeles officials said the lawsuit came as no surprise and noted that they are continuing to negotiate with El Segundo to limit annual capacity at LAX to 78.9 million passengers, pay for noise mitigation and traffic improvements, and address how to fix the southern runways.

"The mayor isn't dissuaded by the lawsuit," said Elizabeth Kaltman, a spokeswoman for Hahn. "We all assumed they would preserve their right to sue. The mayor is confident that we will be able to resolve their claims" out of court.

El Segundo officials said the lawsuit's confrontational tone belied a "very cordial and, at this point, friendly" relationship between the cities.

"I'm optimistic," said Kelly McDowell, El Segundo's mayor. "We've been going at it for what seems like a long time, but in this set of discussions compared to the length of time with which we've been dealing with the problem, it's not. We've been talking since last May, but we've been dealing with this for decades."

The Federal Aviation Administration, which must sign off on Hahn's LAX plan and which has worked closely with Los Angeles officials on the environmental studies, said litigation would not force the agency to alter its schedule. The FAA plans to issue a decision before the end of March, said Donn Walker, an agency spokesman.

The lawsuit reiterates long-standing complaints El Segundo has had with the airport planning process, which spanned 10 years and cost Los Angeles $147 million.

El Segundo has argued repeatedly that Hahn's plan fails to limit annual capacity at LAX to 78.9 million passengers — a figure the mayor promised to stick to when he campaigned for office in 2001.

Because the updated airport's capacity will be far greater than the 78.9 million passengers used in the environmental report, it understates the effect on surrounding communities, the lawsuit argues.

In a "rush" to approve the project, the lawsuit contends, the city made "significant 11th-hour changes" to the proposal and did not conduct additional environmental analysis.

Those alterations included moving the most controversial projects — including a remote check-in facility near the San Diego Freeway and the demolition of Terminals 1, 2 and 3 — to a second phase where they can't proceed without further environmental, traffic and security studies. The lawsuit also challenges one of the major arguments for Hahn's plan: that if the airport isn't modernized, residents will suffer the noise, air pollution and traffic that accompanies growth without the mitigation measures provided in the plan.

Environmental studies for Hahn's plan, the lawsuit contends, also rely on outdated data and fail to analyze effects after the year 2015.

In addition, the 30,000-page EIR is "written in overly complicated technical jargon" and is "well over" the 300-page length that state law suggests, the suit alleges. Los Angeles' airport agency also made it difficult for residents to review the document because it charged $6,500 for a copy, and because the electronic version was unreliable, the suit charges.

The lawsuit says El Segundo's comments, "supported by substantial evidence and extensive credible expert analysis, have been largely ignored." Instead, it charges that Los Angeles "attempted to bury" El Segundo "in increasingly large mountains of paperwork."

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