By HOWARD FINE
In a bid to appease critics of the massive Los Angeles International Airport expansion project, LAX officials are preparing to introduce a “third option” later this summer. And the powerful business-labor coalition backing the airport expansion has stepped up its campaign for the project, appearing at a City Hall hearing last week and launching an ad campaign.
Even so, expansion opponents say they have the means and the will to tie up the $8 billion-to-$12 billion project for years, with legal challenges if necessary.
If the glacial progress of the heavily litigated Burbank-Glendale-Pasadena Airport expansion is any indication, that strategy could prove a successful delaying tactic.
LAX expansion has garnered opposition from several South Bay cities and L.A. City Councilwoman Ruth Galanter, whose council district encompasses the airport and surrounding communities.
“I don’t think anyone should underestimate our resolve to see this through to the end, using whatever means necessary,” said El Segundo Mayor Mike Gordon. “We’ve spent $1.1 million so far on this, which is a big commitment for a city with a $30 million general fund budget.”
Airport officials hope to blunt the opposition of El Segundo and surrounding cities by introducing a “third option” into the mix. This would involve building a third runway on the south side of the airport (which currently has two east-west runways on the north side and two on the south side), according to John Driscoll, executive director of the Department of Airports.
Besides adding a runway, the new option (as well as the other two pre-existing options) calls for reconfiguring the existing runways to facilitate greater plane traffic. The first two options and most likely the new, third option also would involve building a new road ringing the airport, a new entrance on the western side, a new terminal facility and more cargo-handling facilities.
“This option came out of discussions we have had with various agencies and community groups over the past year,” Driscoll said.
The third option, he said, won’t be fully unveiled until the Federal Aviation Administration completes its computer simulations that test the ability of the runway configuration to handle projected increases in takeoffs and landings, as well as satisfy safety concerns. The FAA is expected to take another four to eight weeks to wrap up the simulations.
The third option bears some resemblance to the first option in that both call for a total of five runways. The second option calls for six runways, three on the north side and three on the south.
All three options would expand the capacity of the airport from the current 60 million passengers a year to 98 million passengers a year and allow up to three times the current cargo load to pass through the airport.
Meanwhile, airport supporters flexed their muscle last week, two months after forming a business-labor coalition known as LAX 21, named for its support for expanding LAX for the 21st century. Several labor representatives testified in support of the expansion in a presentation to the City Council. They pointed to the thousands of construction-oriented jobs that the project would generate.
“We were really pushing the jobs angle with the council,” said Mee Hae Lee, president of LAX 21 and a former vice president of government affairs with Warner Bros. “As a side benefit to this, the unions clearly do have a lot of clout at City Hall.”
Union clout on the expansion project also recently received a boost with L.A. Mayor Richard Riordan’s appointment of Miguel Contreras to the Board of Airport Commissioners. Contreras is executive secretary treasurer of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor.
On a related front, LAX 21 launched an advertising campaign last week with a full-page ad in the Business Journal, with additional ads to be placed with other media outlets in the weeks ahead.
Airport supporters have had to overcome considerable negative publicity generated by the recent firing of a public relations firm representing the airport and the resignation of Dan Garcia from the Airport Commission, both of which conveyed a sense of disarray among airport expansion proponents.
Galanter and other opponents have seized on these developments to renew their push to examine other options, like building an international airport in Palmdale. They contend that the communities around LAX would shoulder too much of the burden that will come from the projected doubling of air passenger traffic in the L.A. region over the next 20 years.
“Even if this expansion plan goes through, the region will still be short in airport capacity,” Galanter said last week. “You will have the same problems you now have at LAX, except even worse more traffic, more pollution, more delays. That’s why we need to look at other alternatives.”
Galanter said it is too early in the process to tally up support for her position on the City Council. However, at last week’s meeting, Councilman Mike Hernandez also expressed concern that the region’s infrastructure would not be able to handle an LAX expansion of the scale envisioned in the master plan.
Driscoll said Galanter and other opponents are jumping the gun by opposing the expansion project.
“We don’t even have specific plans on the table yet, so how can they know what they are opposing, except growth?” Driscoll said. “We don’t have the analyses yet to answer their concerns. That will come with the environmental impact reports.”
Those reports will be released for public review this fall, he said.