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Ontario Wants to Buy Back Airport, Threatens L.A.

Times Staff Writer

The city of Ontario wants to buy back the international airport it sold to Los Angeles in 1967, saying the current owner has not moved fast enough to make improvements necessary to cope with the facility’s explosive growth.

Ontario Mayor Howard Snider, who broached the idea at a Los Angeles Airport Commission meeting Wednesday, has threatened to halt local funding for certain airport-related projects if the transfer of ownership is not approved.

“I told them very bluntly that if we don’t get this back, it will become a headache for them--we’re not going to go away,” Snider said. “There are so many things we could do to make life hell for them . . . such as not developing roads that give access to the property.”

Study Ordered

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The five-member commission has ordered its staff to complete a study by Feb. 8 on possibly selling the airport. The sale would need final approval from the Los Angeles City Council, airport officials said.

“The commission listened to Mayor Snider and decided it won’t do anything one way or the other until they have a report from me and my staff,” said Clifton A. Moore, executive director of the Los Angeles Department of Airports. “The question is this: Are they able to do it, and what are the advantages?”

Los Angeles bought Ontario International for $1.4 million, primarily to offer an alternative landing site for aircraft that were being diverted as far away as San Francisco because of fog. At that time, the airport was handling 400,000 passengers a year.

Today, the facility, which is controlled by the Los Angeles Department of Airports, handles 4.8 million passengers a year, provides 6,000 jobs and pumps an annual $3.1 billion into the regional economy, Ontario International Airport officials said.

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Issue Bonds

Snider said Ontario could issue bonds to pay for the airport and that the ownership change would “not be costly to Ontario taxpayers.” He also suggested that local control would enable Ontario to break through a bureaucratic “gridlock in Los Angeles” that has held up development of a $200-million passenger terminal first proposed in 1976.

As it stands, the airport, which serves one of the fastest-growing regions in the United States, is handling twice the 2.5 million annual passengers it was built to serve, Ontario International spokesman Dennis Watson said. The situation has led local residents to complain about worsening ground traffic, air pollution and noise in and around the congested facility.

Adding to the airport’s problems are growing fleets of freight haulers, such as United Parcel Service and Federal Express, which have threatened to gobble up takeoff and landing capacity originally reserved for passengers, Ontario airport authorities said.

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Snider, among other Ontario city officials, suggested that these and other problems at the airport could be solved more easily if the facility was under local control.

But Samuel Greenberg, president of the Los Angeles Airport Commission, argued that major improvements require a complex and lengthy approval process involving federal, state and local agencies, ranging from the Federal Aviation Administration to the state Air Resources Board.

“Development may be slow, but, my God, there’s all these obstacles that the law requires today,” Greenberg said. “They (Ontario) will not get a terminal built any faster than we can.”

Impact Report

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One of those obstacles is a Los Angeles Department of Airports decision in November to update an environmental impact study of the airport conducted in 1975. The decision followed complaints from Chino residents that Ontario flights over their city were causing intolerable noise, Ontario City Councilman Beecher Medlin said.

“Updating the EIR is going to delay construction of the terminal at least another two years,” Medlin said. “While we could not circumvent the EIR study, perhaps we could speed it up a little bit.”

Meanwhile, Medlin added, “we have a lot of development in Ontario, from hotels to office complexes and shopping centers on hold because this terminal is not going forward.”


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