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Lawsuits once again challenge LAX runway and construction work

A China Southern Cargo jet takes off at Los Angeles International Airport. A new round of lawsuits was filed to challenge the latest plan to modernize LAX.
A China Southern Cargo jet takes off at Los Angeles International Airport. A new round of lawsuits was filed to challenge the latest plan to modernize LAX.
(Damian Dovarganes / Associated Press)

Los Angeles International Airport landed in court again Thursday when a labor union, four local governments and a neighborhood coalition filed lawsuits challenging the latest round of construction work being performed at the aging facility, including a controversial plan to relocate the northernmost runway closer to homes.

The cases allege that Los Angeles World Airports, the operator of LAX, violated state laws that require thorough evaluations of the environmental effects of projects as well as measures to reduce adverse impacts.

Bringing suits are some of the same cities and community groups that went to court and stalled an ambitious plan by former Mayor James Hahn to remake the nation’s third-largest airport.

That legal battle ended in a 2006 settlement scaling back the number of projects, setting an unofficial cap of 78.9 million passengers a year and requiring that the growth of air traffic at LAX be spread to other airports in the region.

The current round of suits have been filed by the Alliance for a Regional Solution to Airport Congestion; SEIU Service Workers West, which represents airport workers; San Bernardino County; and the cities of Ontario, Inglewood and Culver City.

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They allege that the planning for the latest LAX improvements violated the California Environmental Quality Act by understating the potential noise, air pollution and traffic impacts in nearby cities and neighborhoods.

“This is a sad day for L.A. because some people are willing to ignore reality to further special interests instead of acting responsibly,” said Denny Schneider, president of the Alliance for a Regional Solution to Airport Congestion.

The Los Angeles City Council approved the projects earlier this month. They are estimated to cost $4.75 billion and include terminal additions, a transportation center, a consolidated car rental facility, a people mover and light-rail stops.

The most controversial part is a $652-million plan to move the northernmost runway 260 feet closer to Westchester and Playa del Rey to make room for a center taxiway.

Supporters say the runway project will increase the safety and efficiency of moving aircraft around LAX. Opponents contend the project will be costly and achieve few, if any, of the promised improvements.

Gina Marie Lindsey, executive director of Los Angeles World Airports, declined to comment specifically on the lawsuits because airport officials have not received copies of them yet.

She said, however, that the process to assess the project’s environmental impacts was “extremely thorough and we trust, that as it is reviewed, it will hold up under scrutiny.”

Gary Toebben, president of the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce and head of the Coalition to Fix LAX Now, agreed with Lindsey although he said the lawsuits could delay airport improvements yet again.

“There’s a reason why LAX looks the way it does today,” Toebben said. “Lawsuits have delayed the modernization and kept important investment away from the airport.”

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Twitter: @DanielJosephWei

dan.weikel@latimes.com


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