The county of Los Angeles sued the operators of Los Angeles International Airport on Tuesday, charging that the public comment period for the $12-billion LAX expansion plan violates state and federal environmental laws.
In a complaint filed in U.S. District Court, the county asked the court to extend the time for the public to respond to the 12,000-page airport expansion plan and its accompanying environmental studies. Public comment was scheduled to end July 25.
The county also asked that the court require the Federal Aviation Administration and Los Angeles World Airports, a city agency, to hold additional public hearings outside Los Angeles--particularly in areas with regional airports, such as Orange and San Bernardino counties.
The city's scheduling of three simultaneous hearings in June failed to provide an adequate opportunity for residents around regional airports to express themselves, the lawsuit alleges.
"We're not taking a position as to the substance of the report," said William Ross, an attorney representing the county. "We're advancing a position as to the procedure. Why shouldn't you cast as wide a net as possible to get everyone involved?"
Ross said he hopes a judge will hear the complaint in the next few weeks.
The lawsuit is the latest strategy by those who oppose LAX expansion and favor distributing a projected doubling of passengers in Southern California by 2025 among a dozen airports in the region. The expansion plan favored by the airport would boost annual passenger traffic at LAX from 67 million to 89 million by 2015.
In a letter sent to FAA chief Jane Garvey last month, county Supervisors Don Knabe and Mike Antonovich threatened to sue if the FAA and the city airport agency failed to schedule additional public hearings. Garvey didn't reply to the letter, the complaint said. Knabe's district includes neighborhoods around LAX.
The supervisors said the three simultaneous public hearings held June 9 by the FAA and the city agency that operates the airport precluded many people from commenting on the master plan. All three were at locations within three miles of LAX.
Attendance at two of the hearings, in Inglewood and Manhattan Beach, was sparse. The third hearing in Westchester--which saw the most raucous opposition to the expansion plan--went about 90 minutes over its planned conclusion. About 207 people spoke at the hearings.
The city agency that operates LAX has "clearly gone above and beyond what's required in obtaining public input on the LAX master plan," said Paul Haney, deputy executive director of public and community relations for the agency. The 180-day public comment period is well beyond the 45 days required by federal law, Haney said.
The complaint also asks the court to order the plan revised to take into account traffic projections made in the FAA report issued last month. The FAA report analyzed actual and optimum arrival and departure rates for aircraft at 31 of the nation's busiest airports.