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LAX Plan Poised to Pass

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Times Staff Writer

After hearing from an overflow crowd Tuesday in a session at which emotions ran high, the City Council appears poised today to approve an $11-billion modernization plan for Los Angeles International Airport.

Two council members who had been undecided, Wendy Greuel and Eric Garcetti, indicated that they were leaning toward the plan. With their votes and those of eight other members in favor, the council would have the 10 necessary votes.

The controversial plan -- a decade and $130 million in the making -- would be the airport’s first remodeling since the 1984 Olympics and the biggest overhaul in its 75-year history.

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The council heard a half-hour of testimony from proponents, including representatives of business, labor and the airlines, and another half-hour of testimony from airport-area residents worried about more traffic and noise.

Today, it will debate and vote on the plan, which aims to make runways safer, reduce traffic and accommodate larger jets at the world’s fifth-busiest airport. But the council will vote without knowing the answer to some critical questions, such as whether the plan would make the airport more secure from terrorist attacks.

The plan, a compromise worked out between Mayor James K. Hahn and Councilwoman Cindy Miscikowski earlier this year, postpones the most controversial projects, including a central passenger check-in facility, to a later phase in which they would receive more study.

Critics had predicted that Hahn’s plan would be dead on arrival at City Hall, but the compromise appeared to have enough support to pass.

So far, Councilmen Bernard C. Parks, Antonio Villaraigosa and Jack Weiss have expressed opposition. Parks and Villaraigosa are running for mayor; Weiss has endorsed Villaraigosa.

Eight council members support it. Councilwoman Jan Perry and Councilman Dennis Zine remain undecided.

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“I think it would be premature to say you’re for or against this before you hear all the facts,” Zine said, adding that he has a “whole list” of questions.

Because the Los Angeles County Airport Land Use Commission opposed the plan, the 15-member council needs at least 10 votes to pass it.

Today’s vote will indicate the council’s position on the plan, but because the county commission ruled that it violates the airport land use plan, the council will have to take a second vote in December.

Miscikowski, gesturing toward piles of LAX documents on her desk, said she “had a good idea of what the vote would be, but I don’t want to say it because I don’t want to jinx it.”

At Tuesday’s session, Villaraigosa demanded that Hahn, who attended the meeting to urge the council to approve his plan, answer his questions. Council President Alex Padilla denied his request.

“In light of the importance of this item, I request that you personally attend tomorrow’s session to answer any inquiries,” Villaraigosa wrote to Hahn after the meeting.

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The county Board of Supervisors voted unanimously Tuesday to send a letter asking federal officials to delay approval of Hahn’s plan until the local review process and any lawsuits are completed. The Federal Aviation Administration will start its review if the council approves the proposal.

Hahn and Miscikowski’s plan would be built in two phases.

The first phase, or “green light” projects, includes moving the southernmost runway 55 feet to make the runways safer, and building a consolidated rental car center, an elevated people mover with a transit hub, an employee parking lot and more gates at the Tom Bradley International Terminal.

Those projects would cost about $3 billion.

The second phase, or “yellow light” projects, includes two new terminals, the passenger check-in center at Manchester Square in nearby Westchester, a second people-mover line, and the demolition of the central parking garages and Terminals 1, 2 and 3. Those projects come in at about $8 billion.

Tuesday’s council hearing was a virtual replay of dozens of hearings held on the plan in the last two years.

Airport-area residents sat on one side of the packed chamber surrounded by business leaders, airline representatives and row upon row of union members.

Fifty-seven people signed up to testify at the unusually crowded hearing, but time limits meant that only 18 spoke against the plan and 22 for it. Both sides worked hard to sway the council.

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Padilla struggled to keep order during the hearing as labor members wearing bright yellow T-shirts that read “FIX LAX NOW” on the front and “Safety, Security, Jobs!” on the back repeatedly applauded, cheered and booed. Residents and other opponents often did the same.

“This is going to be a long morning,” Padilla said just minutes into the testimony. “Don’t make me go to 20 minutes for each side.”

Business, airline and labor groups, which placed a full-page ad in The Times on Tuesday urging the council to approve the plan, said the costly upgrade was essential to bring much-needed jobs to the region and to keep travelers from going elsewhere.

Airlines said the plan was necessary to help them accommodate the 555-seat Airbus A380, which is scheduled to arrive at LAX in 2006.

“We want to continue our growth in Los Angeles,” testified Rob Sharp, a general manager for Qantas Airways. “We want to be the first carrier to bring in the A380. To do this we need this consensus plan. Any substantial delays could mean our operations move to other cities.”

Opponents, who announced that they have collected 17,000 signatures from airport-area residents opposed to the plan, said it failed to limit growth to 78 million annual passengers and to spread future air traffic among other airports in the region.

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“The public is not being listened to,” said Jennifer Dakoske Koslu, a Playa del Rey resident who didn’t get a chance to speak before time ran out. “This plan has no support.”

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Times staff writer Jessica Garrison contributed to this report.

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