Airport Lawsuit May Slow Runway Changes

A Los Angeles County commission could soon take steps that may affect a proposed runway change at Los Angeles International Airport, according to Brian Sumers of the Daily Breeze.

A staff report recommends the county Airport Land Use Commission uphold part of what’s called “impasse appeal” filed by the Culver City, the City of Ontario and San Bernardino County. The three entities argued that Los Angeles World Airports and the city of Los Angeles may have moved too quickly to narrow to one the number of acceptable options for LAX’s upcoming modernization plans. Airport officials countered that their decision was only preliminary and that it may still evolve.

In addition to moving the airport’s northernmost runway 260-feet closer to Westchester homes and business, LAX wants to build a consolidated rental car facility, a ground transportation center and automated people mover. Airport officials say the runway change, the only contentious issue, is necessary to improve safety, while neighborhood groups argue it is unnecessary and will bring more noise and pollution. In a 10-3 vote, the L.A. City council approved the modernization plans in April.

The Airport Land Use Commission’s mission is narrow, said Mark Child, an assistant administrator for the county Department of Regional Planning. In this case, he said in an interview, the commission must ensure the airport’s decisions meet requirements in the State Aeronautics Act. But he cautioned that, even if the commission rules in favor of the three cities, various scenarios remain under which the project could still proceed as planned.

The staff report, written by Child, suggested LAX may have been in better shape had it engaged with officials in nearby cities before settling on its preferred plan. Other cities, especially Culver City because it is close to the airport, eventually must update land use policies to make them compatible with LAX’s plans.

The airport had considered other options for modernization, including one in which the runway moved by only 100 feet.

“An early focus on one option that precludes consideration of other solutions may compromise efforts to develop LAX in an orderly way that minimizes the public’s exposure to excessive noise and safety from the airport,” the staff report said.

What happens next is not clear. The commission at its next meeting could ignore the staff report and deny the impasse appeal. Or, if the commission agrees with the recommendation, the airport initially is expected to be asked to communicate better why it chose to pick a preferred plan when it did.

The staff report suggests better communication between the sides might be enough to fix the problem. It cited “distrust and confusion” among the parties, which could make it difficult for cities to coordinate land-use polices with the airport.

“In conversations, city staff has provided useful information and given reasonable explanations for why the process of selecting an alternative at this stage is needed,” the staff report said. “To achieve orderly development land use agencies must coordinate their planning efforts. This can only occur with clear and open communication.”

As a final option, the L.A. City Council has the option of essentially ignoring the commission with a fourth-fifths vote, according to state law.

The commission meeting is scheduled for Sept. 11.

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