Vote Delayed on Van Nuys Airport Lease Bids

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Bowing to growing pressure, including protests from two powerful congressmen, the president of the Los Angeles Airport Commission has postponed an 11th-hour vote on a controversial lease at Van Nuys Airport.

The decision by commission President John J. Agoglia to accept bids up to Aug. 3 was welcomed by some city officials and potential bidders, while others said it did not go far enough.

The postponement follows a letter by Reps. Brad Sherman (D-Sherman Oaks) and Howard Berman (D-Mission Hills) to Los Angeles World Airports urging a delay pending completion of an airport master plan.

"We feel it is premature to consider lease proposals when the Master Plan has yet to be finalized," the letter said.

Other critics said the mayor-appointed commission was trying to rush the lease through for a friend of Mayor Richard Riordan by scheduling approval for June 26, four days before Riordan leaves office.

After the Airport Commission allowed just 28 days to submit proposals for the 5.8-acre property, Univision owner Jerry Perenchio joined businessman Clay Lacy in submitting the only bid. Others said the short period for submitting proposals made it impossible to participate.

Lacy recently said he has eyed the vacant property for years and would like to use it to park about 12 aircraft, including jets, served by his adjacent aviation business. That could jeopardize the Airtel Plaza Hotel next door, said Councilman Hal Bernson.

The delay announced by Agoglia was welcomed by Bernson, who has proposed a moratorium on any new development at the airport until a master plan is approved.

"I support it," Bernson said of the delay. "That thing was just being pushed through too fast."

James Hahn takes over as mayor on July 1 and has the power to replace the Airport Commission.

In a letter to Councilman Joel Wachs on Wednesday, Agoglia conceded that the growing demands for a delay played a role in the decision on the property at 7335-7337 Valjean Ave.

"In light of the many requests for additional time, the (Request for Proposal) process has been extended and the new due date for submitting proposals is Aug. 3," Agoglia wrote.

Officials for Los Angeles World Airports had said they were not trying to rush the lease for political reasons but wanted to approve an agreement for the economic benefit of the airport.

Agoglia did not return calls for comment Wednesday but said in the letter that the commission wanted to provide more time for public input into the use of such an important parcel.

"A balance between potential impacts to the community and activities that serve to sustain the viability of the airport is of paramount importance," he wrote.

The action did not satisfy every critic. James Dunn, president and chief executive of the Airtel Plaza Hotel, said at least 90 days should be provided for competitors to submit proposals.

"They are heading in the right direction, but it's not enough time," Dunn said.

The delay also did not satisfy Gerald Silver, president of Homeowners of Encino and a member of the city's advisory council at the airport.

"It's not enough to postpone it a month," Silver said. "What they have to do is wait until the master plan is adopted."

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