Multiple Hurdles Must Be Cleared
By HOWARD FINE
The compromise plan to overhaul Los Angeles International Airport that made its way through the airport and planning commissions last week has a long way to go before the shovels hit the ground.
At least four government panels and as many as 10 must approve the project, including the L.A. City Council and the Federal Aviation Administration. Once the plan makes it through this process, it will almost certainly be challenged in court by those who believe it leaves the door open to a more aggressive airport expansion.
L.A. Mayor James Hahn, who supports the compromise, set an aggressive timetable when the environmental impact report for his original airport overhaul was released in April, with the plan coming to a vote before the full city council on Sept. 14 and the construction set to begin in January 2005.
City Councilwoman Cindy Miscikowski, who developed the compromise, said she still expected the revised plan to come before the council by late September or early October.
The next hearing is likely to take place before the city’s Planning Commission, which will finalize tentative tract maps. If any objections are raised, the commission must reconvene to address the objections.
The plan then goes to the obscure county Airport Land Use Commission, whose job it is to ensure that what was approved last week is consistent with the L.A. County Airport Land Use Plan.
Usually, this is a formality. But this hearing could provide a platform for L.A. County Supervisor Don Knabe, a staunch opponent of Hahn’s original proposal.
The first real test will likely take place at the committee level of the council starting in August. One key committee: Planning and Land Use Management. It’s possible that plans from other councilmembers including mayoral candidate Bernard Parks could be put before it.
Given the complexity of the overhaul, it’s also likely that other council committees will want their say, including the transportation committee and the energy, commerce and natural resources committee, which oversees airport operations.
Then it’s onto the council floor, where a fierce debate is expected; the plan may need more than one meeting before it wins approval.
Whatever plan emerges from the City Council must then get federal approval. Several federal agencies will weigh in, including the Environmental Protection Agency, the Federal Highway Administration and the Federal Aviation Administration, which would serve as the lead agency.
Normally, this would take at least six months. However, Jim Ritchie, deputy executive director of Los Angeles World Airports, said the airport has been placed on a special federal list for streamlined environmental review. He estimated it would take about 90 days for the federal approvals to come in unless there is opposition from the airlines. Their objections could push the federal approval process out beyond the first quarter of next year.
Throughout the process, a major wild card will be what happens with the multiple ongoing investigations into “pay-to-play” practices at the airport department. Both the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the L.A. County District Attorney are looking into the allegations; if indictments come down, it’s widely believed that would delay the approval process.