The L.A. City Attorney's office is close to settling a lawsuit filed by neighborhood groups and cities surrounding Los Angeles International Airport over portions of an $11 billion overhaul.


If the litigation gets resolved, it could give Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa the legal authority to significantly change former Mayor James Hahn's Master Plan, which has been approved by the City Council and the Federal Aviation Administration.


Villaraigosa envisions a scaled-down version of the project that would limit expansion at LAX while encouraging a regional air traffic network in Los Angeles. Such a plan would reduce the cost of improving LAX by about one-third and eliminate controversial projects such as building an off-site check-in facility.


The mayor also has replaced several of the people who were involved in approving Hahn's Master Plan, including the Board of Airport Commissioners. Last week, he replaced the executive director of the city's airport department, Kim Day, with Lydia Kennard, a vocal opponent of the overhaul proposal who returned to the top post after resigning in 2003.


"There is a level of optimism that the mayor is going to bring a different view toward the airport, and that we really see that as an opportunity," said Tony Gonzales, vice president of HNTB Architecture Group, lead contractor on the first project of the Master Plan. "It's been a general overview that we need to re-think the plan."


Yellow vs. green
Villaraigosa would unravel much of the work of former Councilwoman Cindy Miscikowski, who appeased opponents by separating projects that were "green-lighted," or ready to be implemented, with those that were "yellow-lighted," which could not be built without further discussions and approvals by the council.


Green-lighted projects include moving the southern runways farther south, building a consolidated rental car facility, and constructing a tram-like people mover that would drop off passengers arriving on the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's Green Line. Yellow-lighted projects include the off-site check-in center and the demolition of Terminals 1, 2 and 3, which would close passenger access to the central terminal area.


"The plan can change," said Miscikowski recently. "The plan has flexibility."
Villaraigosa was one of three councilmembers to vote against the plan because he said it focuses too much on LAX instead of other airports in the region. "We shouldn't put all our marbles in one basket," he said at the time.


The mayor's office did not return calls for comment.

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