Ontario rejects L.A.’s offer to resume airport transfer talks

Passengers arrive at Los Angeles/Ontario International Airport, which the city of Ontario has been trying to regain control of for almost three years.
Passengers arrive at Los Angeles/Ontario International Airport, which the city of Ontario has been trying to regain control of for almost three years.
(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)
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Inland Empire officials have rejected as unreasonable an offer by Los Angeles to resume negotiations on transferring ownership of L.A./Ontario International Airport back to the city of Ontario.

The decision rebuffed a proposal made almost two weeks ago by Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa to renew talks on the condition that Ontario city officials drop their recent lawsuit against Los Angeles World Airports.

“I was quite perplexed that the city of Ontario would file a claim and subsequent lawsuit,” Villaraigosa stated in a June 6 letter to Ontario Mayor Paul Leon. “Both sides should sit down again and hammer out a mutually agreeable arrangement.”


Filed in early June, the lawsuit alleges that after Los Angeles assumed responsiblity for operating the airport in 1967 it violated an agreement with Ontario to do its best to attract commercial carriers to the airport.

Ownership was transferred to Los Angeles in 1985, but the 1967 agreement remained in effect.

After years of steady growth, the airport has lost more than 40% of its passenger volume since 2007, plunging 4.2 million last year from 7.2 million. Further declines are predicted for 2013.

Ontario officials blame Los Angeles for poorly managing the airport and not moving fast enough to counteract the loss of air service amid the recession. They note that the Inland Empire’s economy is recovering, but not airline service.

Los Angeles officials attribute the decline solely to the recent recession, which, they say, forced airlines to shift service to the stronger markets of larger airports such as Los Angeles International Airport.

Transfer talks broke off in April when Ontario officials filed a legal claim for damages -- a prelude to a lawsuit -- and rejected an offer by Los Angeles to sell the airport for $476 million.


In the attempt to rekindle discussions, Villaraigosa’s letter said he still supports the regionalization of air traffic -- that is, spreading the growth in commercial flights at LAX to other airports in the region, such as Ontario.

He added that focused marketing efforts should help the Ontario airport recover.

In a sharp retort to Villaraigosa, Leon responded in a letter last Friday that conditioning the resumption of talks on withdrawing the suit was a “not a reasonable demand.”

“Ontario filed the lawsuit after all other avenues of relief were exhausted,” Leon wrote. “Having been forced to file the case, it is not going to withdraw it as a prerequisite to a settlement meeting, especially given that the current Los Angeles mayoral administration will be transitioned out of existence in a little more than two weeks.”

Mayor-elect Eric Garcetti assumes office July 1, when Villaraigosa is termed out after serving eight years.

Villaraigosa’s imminent departure, Leon stated, left very little time to bridge the rather large gap in their respective positions.

Ontario officials would be willing to return to the negotiating table, Leon wrote, if the lawsuit request and the $475-million sale price for the airport were dropped.



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