Start the 'Dozers at LAX

No plan for upgrading Los Angeles International Airport will please everyone, considering how noisy and disruptive -- yet vital -- airports are. The two that preceded Councilwoman Cindy Miscikowski's, however, pleased hardly anyone. Airport neighbors fought off then-Mayor Richard Riordan's plans to expand LAX, while Mayor James K. Hahn managed to alienate no-growth activists and pro-growth supporters alike with a $9-billion proposal that analysts said would neither increase security as promised nor boost the region's economy.

After 10 years and $130 million in planning costs, LAX seemed doomed to remain outdated and congested -- until Miscikowski set out to forge a compromise. That plan was finally approved Wednesday by 12 of the 15 council members, though they must vote on it again in December.

Her plan green-lights the Hahn projects that just about everyone agrees are good ideas, such as a consolidated rental car center, a transit hub that links the Metro Green Line to the airport and safety improvements to the south runways -- a package costing about $3 billion. It postpones the more controversial and costly projects, including construction of a new terminal complex and a remote passenger check-in center, until further studies confirm they are needed and would increase security as promised.

The remaining objections hinge mainly on technicalities -- and trust. Because many elements of Hahn's plan have been put off rather than discarded, conspiracy theorists are left to imagine a stealth expansion, while others worry that such tinkering, after environmental and other studies have been completed, invites lawsuits. (The city attorney's office offered assurances that the consensus plan would hold up in court.)

The dissenting council members (two of whom are running for mayor) wanted to hold off on the remodel until after a new security study was completed or a regional plan was developed to distribute passengers to other airports. But why wait? The consensus plan is flexible enough to incorporate whatever post-9/11 measures future studies recommend. And as for a regional system, the council should be pressing for the needed train and bus links now. The headaches of remodeling will provide plenty of incentives for passengers to seek alternatives to LAX.

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