Airport Panel Cuts Travel, Private Pacts : Budget: Commission eliminates $25 million in response to critics. It also adds two managers in effort to develop business.


Conceding that the public has been infuriated by its seemingly lavish spending, the Los Angeles Airport Commission adopted a budget Friday that promises to sharply reduce expenditures for travel and contracts with private companies.

The cuts come in the wake of scathing criticism of overseas trips taken by commissioners--who operate Los Angeles International and three other airports--and of alleged contract bidding preferences given to allies of Mayor Tom Bradley.

But while cutting $25 million from a $222-million budget, the commissioners also created two management positions. Critics have said the reorganization is designed partly to create a job for a longtime Bradley aide.


With the budget savings and other funds, the commission created a $30-million trust fund that could go into the city treasury if federal laws and other barriers to such a transfer can be removed, commission President Leland Wong said.

“We are serious about being accountable to the airports’ stockholders and that is the residents of Los Angeles,” Wong said. “And we know it doesn’t sound good, when the city is facing a budget crisis, to have officials traveling overseas.”

City Controller Rick Tuttle and others criticized commissioners this year when they joined Bradley on a four-nation European tour--saying the trip was too costly for the city during a budget crunch.

In the budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1, the Department of Airports will reduce its travel spending from $555,000 to $355,000.

Another criticism that has dogged the board has been its use of private consultants. Airport bureaucrats and others protested that a lucrative parking contract and a food concession contract appeared to have been designed to be won by companies with connections to Bradley. The complaints led to delays in both contracts, which will now be let after June 30, when Bradley leaves office and a commission chosen by his successor can decide on who gets the business.

The new Airport Commission also will have less money for contracts--with $58 million to spend in the coming year instead of $65.8 million.


The more austere budget was presented by airport Executive Director John J. Driscoll, who took over as the airport’s top official in January.

The other major reduction in the budget will come through eliminating 60 employees from the 1,600-member airport staff. The airports--LAX, Palmdale, Van Nuys and Ontario--will lose that many positions through attrition, according to the budget.

“I’m going to go back and look at all that spending and see if there really is a need to have someone fly to New Zealand for a one-day meeting,” Driscoll said, citing what he said was one of the most notable examples of past inefficiency.

Budget reductions are just the first step toward reorganizing the department so that the airports become a more valuable asset for city government, Driscoll said.

But to make more money, the commissioners said, they are willing to spend more to hire two new assistant general managers at $112,000 a year.

One assistant will help the airport develop new business, Driscoll said. The new administrator will also try to find a better and more lucrative use than agriculture for the 17,000 acres the airport department owns in Palmdale.


The other assistant will plan transportation systems to get passengers to and from Los Angeles International more efficiently.

Wong denied a charge by some who are familiar with airport operations that one position was created for Phil Depoian, a longtime Bradley aide.

“We are not creating these positions around any particular person or persons,” he said.

Driscoll said he will not fill the jobs for months and that they will be open to all applicants.

City officials said they hope the $25 million and other savings can someday land in the city treasury--to bolster police, firefighting and other services.

But the Air Transport Assn., which represents the nation’s major airlines, has promised to block efforts to have Los Angeles or any other city use airport money for other purposes. Such intermingling of funds will reduce the quality and safety of airports and lead to higher ticket prices, airline officials say.

Driscoll said improved efficiency will make LAX and other airports more valuable to the public, whether they are operated by the city or leased to a private firm, as mayoral candidate Richard Riordan has advocated.


But Wong and Commissioner Johnnie Cochran said the new budget proves that the airport can be run efficiently by the city. “We don’t need a private company to come in here to maximize the money we can make,” Wong said.