County planning officials recommended Wednesday that operators of Los Angeles International Airport give more consideration to opponents of a $652-million runway move that business leaders say is essential for handling future growth in travel and cargo.
The Airport Land Use Commission, which oversees aviation-related projects in the region, however, rejected a request by runway opponents to issue an order requiring the Los Angeles City Council to reconsider its approval of an entire $4.75-billion package of LAX improvements.
Passed by the council in May, the package includes the hotly debated plan to shift one of the two north runways 260 feet closer to homes and businesses in Westchester and Playa del Rey to make room for a center taxiway.
Federal officials and a coalition of business, civic and labor leaders say the relocation would improve safety and the movement of aircraft, such as the latest generation of jumbo jets. But nearby residents argue that their communities would be further degraded by flight operations and that the runway project would only provide marginal benefits at great cost.
Had the LAX package been sent back to the council, its 15 members could have overridden the commission’s decision with 12 yes votes. If council members accepted the decision, they and airport officials would have had to reevaluate the proposals, a move that might have delayed the planned improvements.
At Wednesday’s hearing, opponents, including the cities of Culver City, Ontario and San Bernardino, contended that Los Angeles officials excluded them from meaningful participation in airport planning and moved so quickly to select the runway project that they did not adequately consider alternatives to decrease noise, pollution and safety hazards in surrounding neighborhoods.
“Hundreds of meetings have been held, but no one is listening,” said Denny Schneider of Westchester, president of the Alliance for a Regional Solution to Airport Congestion. “They say the north runway won’t impact anyone. That is a joke.”
Officials for Los Angeles World Airports, the operator of LAX, told commissioners that during the last 16 years of planning and public meetings related to airport modernization, ample opportunity has been given for members of the public to express their views.
They added that the runway move and other projects are not final and will require more hearings, further engineering and design work as well as additional environmental analysis, all of which will provide for more public input.
“There’s been robust inclusion and the taking of much public comment,” said Gina Marie Lindsey, executive director of Los Angeles World Airports. “Even when people are included, if they don’t like the alternative selected, they feel excluded.”
The five-member airport land use panel voted 3 to 2 to deny the opponents’ request for reconsideration. “There has been an open and public process,” Commissioner Pat Modugno said. “This is not something being crafted in a back room.”
Commission members said they remained concerned about the amount of attention airport planners were paying to the views of north runway critics. They advised Los Angeles officials to give more meaningful consideration to opponents and allow them to offer alternative proposals. The recommendation does not carry consequences if not complied with, commissioners said.