LARRY KANTER Staff Reporter
Los Angeles International Airport’s “master plan” has barely taxied out of the gate, but already the ambitious expansion proposal is encountering some turbulence.
A number of nearby cities, homeowners and environmental groups have begun lining up against LAX’s plans to grow following a series of public meetings held by the L.A. Department of Airports.
“We are opposed to any expansion until the airport cleans up its current act,” said Terry Tamminen, a spokesman for Santa Monica Baykeeper, an environmental group that last year led successful efforts to block LAX from expanding into Santa Monica Bay.
“Until they show that they can be good neighbors with what they have, we cannot back any further expansion.”
Tamminen’s skepticism was echoed by homeowners and elected officials in nearby El Segundo, Westchester, Playa Del Rey and Hawthorne.
The city of El Segundo, for example, is considering legal action to ensure that all noise and traffic impacts are properly mitigated, said Harvey Holden, the city’s airport projects administrator.
“We are looking at all legal routes to prevent our quality of life from being eroded,” Holden said.
Such opposition is likely to intensify as LAX begins soliciting further community input when it prepares an Environmental Impact Report. The EIR process begins in April and is expected to take 12 to 18 months.
Late last year, the Department of Airports released the first details of the LAX Master Plan a long-range plan to guide the airport’s development through the year 2015.
According to department forecasts, LAX passenger traffic will nearly double to 98 million passengers a year over the next two decades. Cargo traffic is expected to more than double from 1.7 million tons in 1994 to 4.1 million tons in 2015.
Amid such growth, airport facilities already are operating at or near capacity. Unless it expands its operations, airport officials fear, LAX risks losing precious market share to less congested international airports in Denver and San Francisco.
As the Department of Airports begins its EIR process, it also will be engaged in the process of selling the expansion to its neighbors.
Judging from the response the plans received at a series of four widely attended public meetings held in January and early February, it could be a tough sell, acknowledged John J. Driscoll, executive director of the Department of Airports.
“I wouldn’t say the community was cheering us on to victory,” Driscoll said of the four meetings held with citizens in Westchester, Inglewood, El Segundo and Hawthorne. “We have a lot of work ahead of us to deal with the surrounding communities.”
At this point, the LAX Master Plan consists of four design concepts, all of which call for extending and reconfiguring the airport’s existing four runways.
This would require the removal of between 500 and 1,700 residential apartment units and other homes in the area just north of Century Boulevard west of the Inglewood city limits.
In addition, two of the proposals call for a new runway for commuter aircraft to be built at the northern edge of the airport which residents fear would increase noise in the Westchester and Playa Del Rey area.
Another design concept, which proposes a new runway at the airport’s southern edge, has sparked similar fears in El Segundo. And still another option calls for using the nearby municipal airport in Hawthorne for commuter aircraft.
Driscoll said that the four proposals are actually among the least intrusive of the more than 30 design concepts that the airport considered in preparing its master plan.
“The options we’ve presented reflect that we’ve made some compromises to protect the community and the environment,” Driscoll said. “We are doing the right thing.”
It certainly doesn’t look that way to Hawthorne City Council, which last Tuesday passed a unanimous resolution opposing any expansion which uses the Hawthorne Airport.
The plan to divert commuter flights to Hawthorne calls for extending the airport runway there, which would force condemnation of 900 apartment units and other homes.
“It is very intrusive,” said Hawthorne City Councilmember Ginny McGinnis Lambert. “The City of Hawthorne is absolutely not in favor of this intrusion in our community.”
Any eventual expansion needs to be approved by the L.A. City Council, the mayor and the Federal Aviation Administration.
Many residents are pessimistic that their view will be given much weight, since the benefits of expansion will accrue to the entire city but the pain will only be felt in the airport area.
“The airport is going to do what they want to do when they want to do it whether or not they receive approval from the neighboring communities,” said Roy Hefner, a Westchester resident who serves on an airport advisory committee of neighboring residents. “All we can hope to do is try to guide them.”