News in Depth
Council Votes 5-3 To Expand LB Airport's Permanent Terminal Area Facilities, Will Grow From Roughly 57,000 sq. ft. (Permanent + Temp) To Nearly 90,000 sq. ft. Permanent; Multiple Residents Cite Pollution As Major Concern
(April 25, 2007) -- With multiple residents citing pollution, asthma and their families' health (not traditional noise) in opposing expansion of permanent terminal area facilities at the City's Airport -- and some saying they would leave LB if they could -- a Council majority voted 5-3 (Yes: Bonnie & Suja Lowenthal, DeLong, Schipske & Lerch; No: O'Donnell, Reyes Uranga, Gabelich) to approve a city management recommended 89,995 sq. ft expansion of Airport's permanent terminal area facilities.
The April 24 action came on a substitute motion by Vice Mayor Bonnie Lowenthal, seconded by Councilwoman Suja Lowenthal, that countered a motion by Councilmembers Patrick O'Donnell, seconded by Councilwoman Rae Gabelich, who with Councilwoman Reyes Uranga urged a roughly 79,000 sq. ft alternative that management didn't support but has acknowledged was feasible.
Earlier in the meeting, the Council voted 8-0 to approve a revised list of Airport policies incorporating salient parts of neighborhood protective recommendations proposed by Councilmembers O'Donnell, Reyes Uranga and Gabelich [final text unveiled at meeting; will be posted here shortly.]
The meeting marked a significant change from prior meetings...the first time we can recall residents overwhelmingly testifying about pollution, not noise, as their major concern regarding the Airport. Multiple residents from Cal Heights/Bib Knolls and Los Altos areas testified to seeing black dust accumulate on their homes, backyard furniture and fruit trees.
Long time LB resident Nancy Latimer, who for years headed LB historical preservation efforts, said her home purchased in the 1930s is being repainted after pollution prematurely peeled off its last paint job. Ms. Latimer said the paint damage was bad enough...but it was worse to think that LB residents -- especially children -- were breathing it.
Some more recent LB arrivals said that they and their children now have asthma...and some said they would now leave if they could.
Testimony by residents from Cal. Hts/Bib Knolls to Los Altos regarding pollution from expansion at the city-operated Airport paralleled concerns by WLB and downtown residents about pollution from expansion at the city-operated seaport and expansion of the 710 freeway.
Vice Mayor Bonnie Lowenthal, who made the substitute motion to adopt management's proposed airport facilities expansion, represents Port-impacted constituents from WLB to downtown, is a member of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's governing board which supports 710 freeway expansion.
Councilwoman Suja Lowenthal, whose district stretches from the Port to Rose Park, voted for management's Airport facilities expansion testified in late June 2006 (as Councilwoman-elect but still president of the LB Unified School District's governing board) that the Airport project's Environmental Impact Report (EIR) failed to address and mitigate significant impacts on schools, teachers and students.
Council speakers on April 24, 2007 included LB Unified School District governing board VP Dr. Felton Williams, who reiterated LBUSD's disagreement with the EIR. Dr. Williams noted that in June 2006, then-School Board President Suja Lowenthal had spoken for the district in testifying against certifying the EIR [on which management's proposed expansion is now based.]
Also testifying at the April 24, 2006 Council meeting was LB Area Chamber of Commerce Board Chair Byron Schweigert (Chief Education & Gov't Affairs Officer for MemorialCare Medical Centers). On behalf of the Chamber, Mr. Schweigert said:
Mr. Schweigert: ...We certainly would like to see the Long Beach Airport significantly expanded and improved. The Chamber supports the original proposal which was to have 97,545 square feet...|
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...We understand the staff recommendation for the 89,995 and certainly that would be an acceptable compromise but we still think that the original 97,545 is the best option. Now is really the time for us to move forward. You've heard from just about every special interest group in the city. Your decision tonight is not going to be easy because many of these groups differ in terms of what they really want and what they want to see.
[A phone message left by LBReport.com with Mr. Schweigert's HB corporate office (secretary and voice mail] regarding his testimony in preparation for this and future articles was not returned by midafternoon.]
Chamber chair Schweigert's reference to unspecified "special interest" groups received a scornful response from several subsequent speakers, including Birgit De La Torre, Director of Legislation and the Director-elect of Health and Safety for the LB Council PTA. Responding with sarcasm to Mr. Schweigert's reference to "special interest" groups, Ms. De La Torre referred to LB's PTA as a special interest and continued:
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Ms. De La Torre: ...We are not against representing our city in the best possible light...We are just asking for a full disclosure of the Environmental Impact of this project. We'd like to know what's the maximum number of travelers that can come through, the maximum number of planes, the maximum number of cars that come in every day...|
...I cannot support the 79,000 [square feet]. I cannot support you making a decision on this at all tonight until we have an EIR that tell us honestly and completely the impact of this project.
Other speakers included:
Cecilia Lynch [Cal Hts resident]: ...[O]ne of the things that I've been disappointed about in Long Beach is the fact that the business interests and the community interests often have not worked together in creative ways, in forward looking ways [as other cities are doing]...|
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...These kinds of ways merge the health of their citizens with creative ways to rejuvenate the economy. I think the real special interest threat here this evening is not those who are looking out for the health of our children...The real threat are the backward looking business interests who do not look creatively at how we move forward in our world today...
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Sheryl Fafard ...I am right in the landing pattern of the airport. I moved here six years ago from a city that I didn't feel was safe for my children, chose the Los Altos area because I felt it was a good community to live in...|
...I have three boys and in the six years that we've lived there, I now have asthma, I suffer with it pretty bad, and for me it's no big deal, but I've got kids here...If I could afford out of Long Beach, whether I'm politically correct or not, I would move. Because since [2001, when a Council action (8-1, Carroll dissenting) resulted in JetBlue filling all of LB's then vacant flight slots], the dust and the gunk that's come in my windows and in my door, and we had a fruit tree ripped out because I don't want my kids eating the fruit because of all of the garbage that was sitting on it. It was a great fruit tree...
...As a mother that, if I could, I would pick up and I would move. It's just out of control. It's just disgusting...If I could change my decision to move to Long Beach where I live now, I would have changed it...
Terry Jensen: ...I've never been opposed to modernizing or controlled growth at that airport. I've never advocated reducing the safety to our passengers, and I dare say that the majority of the people who sit behind me today do not advocate that either. It's insulting for people to assume that or to make those statements...|
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...We keep ignoring the elephant in the room...I can support the 79,000 sq. ft. What I can't support is not having a cap on the post-security space. Every single one of the studies that has been done on this airport is using inaccurate information. They're using airplanes that nobody flies...They're using occupancy loads that nobody has...Currently we have a holdroom that's [rounded] to [20,000] sq. ft...We currently have approximately 1.5 million emplaning passengers going out of that facility...They want to build a facility that's 48,900 sq. ft post security. If you can't more than double the number of emplaning passengers to 3.0 million, it doesn't take much to extrapolate that you could easily double the number of people that go through. That equates to over 3 million emplaning passengers or over 6 million total passengers. If that isn't over capacity, I don't know what is...
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Elizabeth Cruz [Los Altos area]...I wanted to get someone here from El Toro to tell us how important it is for Long Beach to make its airport as big as possible...|
...[A]ll the citizens of El Toro [area] stuck together, and made sure all their representatives voted into office had the same agenda as the citizens of El Toro. They got the result they wanted...It makes me sad that the citizens of Long Beach don't have that kind of unity...
Dan Freelo [sp?] [Los Altos area]...I'm a builder, now a building inspector for the County of Los Angeles. I've designed buildings. I have some idea as to space, how it can be used...The real experts in handling passenger space are the airlines, that give you as little space as possible. You're not there to do anything but get from someone's home to someone else's home in another city or to a meeting in another city. An airport is not a shopping mall. It's not a restaurant. It's not, all of the things all of the things people would like to turn it into here, it's ridiculous...
SE LB resident Mark Bixby said, "We have world class facilities except for our Airport. The present incarnation presents a poor image of the City of Long Beach and that's why we're here debating how to put in a new facility that will represent Long Beach in the right light.."
In response, a Cal Hts. resident came to the podium...and pointed out that the most recent issue of Los Angeles magazine (May 2007) reviews four local airports and says, [quoting magazine] "There's a lot to like to like about the County's smallest regional airport, beginning with its tiny art deco terminal." The speaker said, "Los Angeles magazine is very forward thinking, they're very avante garde...and they seem to like out airport the way it is."
Mike Kowal, a Los Cerritos/Bib Knolls area realtor who heads the grassroots homeowner group LBHUSH2, put into the record that Chapman Law School Professor John Eastman (representing LB's PTA) told the Council at an April 17 Airport study session that its vote could amount to a waste of time and taxpayer money since the EIR is being challenged. Mr. Kowal said LBHUSH2 and other appellants urged a square footage not to exceed 67,495 sq. ft.
Joe Sopo with LBHUSH2 (and also an ELB realtor) likewise supported 67,495 sq. ft but said 79,000 sq. ft is alright with him...and called it a compromise.
As residents testified to their concerns about pollution, LB Mayor Bob Foster made passing comments to the effect that he agreed with them...but didn't take sides publicly on the Council vote.
In June 2006, then Mayor-elect Foster told LBReport.com that he favored not certifying the Environmental Impact Report (which now serves as City Hall's legal basis for the Airport facility expansion project), saying that he believed serious questions remained to be answered in the document. A few days later, the Council certified the EIR on a 5-2 vote (Yes: Bonnie Lowenthal, Kell, Richardson, Reyes Uranga, Lerch; No: O'Donnell, Gabelich; Colonna absent; 2nd dist vacant).
Two groups are now challenging the EIR in court: the LB Unified School District and (separately) the LB PTA, the latter represented by Chapman University Law Professor John Eastman. A week earlier, Prof. Eastman told a Council study session that its Airport-sizing vote would be a waste of taxpayer time and money if the Court agrees with him and overturns the EIR...in which case the Council's Airport-sizing vote would have to be re-done.
Another group of EIR appellants hasn't said if they plan to join in the court proceedings...but appellant Doug Haubert testified that the Airport policies approved earlier in the evening by the Council don't address EIR deficiencies alleged by the appellants.
When Vice Mayor Bonnie Lowenthal got the floor, she indicated she planned to make a substitute motion [to counter O'Donnell and Gabelich's 79,000 sq. ft motion] but first asked city management to respond to Mr. Jensen's charges that the project included excess capacity. City engineer Mark Christoffels said:
Mr. Christoffels: ...[The figures used by City Hall's consultant] were the passenger forecasts that were in the EIR, and we asked them to do that. That projects forward the anticipated passenger traffic that would be coming through the airport and on that basis they sized the facility.
Vice Mayor Lowenthal: And so you're confident that those are correct assumptions? Not just that they did it but that they're correct?
Mr. Christoffels: Yes, in my opinion they are correct. They do differ from Terry's [Mr. Jensen's] assumptions. I acknowledge that. He took a different tack in coming up with the numbers, but what we feel is that the items shown in the EIR are accurate and that's what we went with in sizing the facility.
Vice Mayor Lowenthal then proceeded to make her substitute motion:
Vice Mayor Bonnie Lowenthal:...I do appreciate the earlier discussion about the greening of the Airport and the protection of the neighborhoods, because that has really given me a lot of confidence that we are going to protect those neighborhoods that are so impacted...You all have a right to be very concerned about the air quality, just as those of us who live in other parts of this city are always concerned about air quality. And I hope that over time, as a nation not just as a city, we will be addressing that. But Mr. Schweigert [from the Chamber] had said that 89,000 would be a compromise from some of the earlier numbers, and because we now have a guarantee of annual reporting as we discussed earlier...so that we don't have to wait for the 4.2 MAP [million annual passengers] is move that we accept the 89,000 sq. ft.
Councilwoman Suja Lowenthal: Second.
Prior to proceeding with Vice Mayor Lowenthal's substitute motion, Councilman Gary DeLong made his own substitute motion to Vice Mayor Lowenthal's substitute motion, proposing to approve the EIR maximum of 97,545 sq. ft. Councilman Val Lerch immediately seconded DeLong's motion...but on the vote, Councilmembers DeLong and Lerch both voted "no" on their own motion.
The action prompted LB Mayor Bob Foster to say he felt as if he was in the "Twilight Zone" (and hummed the four note Twilight Zone theme).
Prior to the vote on Vice Mayor Lowenthal's substitute motion, Councilwoman Gabelich if Vice Mayor Lowenthal would accept reducing from 12 to 10 the number of aircraft parking positions as part of the 89,995 sq. ft plan. Airport Manager Chris Kunze (speaking for staff) recommended that the Council not go below 12, citing management's estimation of future needs and the possibility of changes in the Airport's current carrier mix...and Vice Mayor Lowenthal stuck with management's proposed level.
The Lowenthal substitute for 89,995 sq. ft carried on a 5-3 vote (Yes: Bonnie & Suja Lowenthal, DeLong, Schipske & Lerch; No: O'Donnell, Reyes Uranga, Gabelich).
Discussion of the entire Airport package took less than two hours (roughly 50 minutes on Airport policies, then a little over an hour for the Airport sizing debate).
Councilwoman Gerrie Schipske's vote for city management's proposed expansion angered the "Los Altos LB/late night flights" email list publisher [publicly unidentified operator] which issued a blast email following the Council vote, stating:
SCHIPSKE SWITCHES TO EVIL EMPIRE TO PROVIDE 5-3 SWING VOTE ON LARGER AIRPORT SIZE
Despite a neighborhood protection slant in her April 22nd blog post Questions Needing Answers on Airport Issue, Councilwomen Gerrie Schipske shocked the near capacity audience full of neighborhood advocates at the Tuesday April 24 th Long Beach City Council Meeting when she voted for the larger of the two airport sizes under debate. Schipske provided the swing vote in the 5-3 council vote that approved the 89,000 square foot consultant suggested Airport size over Councilman O'Donnell's motion for the original smallest staff suggestion of 79,000 square feet.
Schipske supported the Lowenthal Block's motion for the 89,000 square foot airport even after the Lowenthal Block rejected a friendly amendment by Councilwomen Gabelich to restrict the 89,000 s.f. plan for two more airplane parking places...
Well Gerrie, stay tuned because we think the May 1st election is going to be very interesting because we are telling everyone we know to VOTE NO on A-G.
Now we know why we have term limits.
The morning after, Councilwoman Schipske responded on her personally written (non-taxpayer paid) blog in pertinent part:
No, folks, I did not "go over to the evil side" as the email blast going around Long Beach this morning states...I did not vote to "supersize" (at 130,000 or 118,00 sq. feet) or to invite additional flights — because as the figures show (from sources outside our staff and our consultant) the proposal to go to 89,995 square feet accommodates less than the 4.2 million annual passengers anticipated if everyone of our flight slots under our noise ordinance are filled...
I received dozens of emails and phone calls yesterday before my vote. No, they were not from the Chamber of Commerce or the airlines. 90% were my constituents in the 5th District who actually favored 97,545 square feet. The other 10% were residents of other council districts and they opposed any expansion at the airport.
...The Council will have to approve the financing of this size. And I will continue to ask questions and carefully weigh how I decide to vote.
So to the people who believe that I went over to the “dark side” — I would like to point out that no other member of the council has shed more light on her votes or discussed in detail what went into those votes than I have and will continue to do. That is not “evil” –that is responsible.
[Editor's note: 130,000 and 118,000 sq. ft options weren't before the Council; the 97,545 EIR maximum was adopted in June 06 on motion by former 5th dist. Councilwoman Jackie Kell.]
In reaching her conclusion, Councilwoman Schipske cited information she said she received a day before the vote...regarding Tucson's Airport. [To read her reasoning in full, click here].
The Council vote lets city management prepare a final design plan and (very important) a financing plan to pay for the expanded terminal area facilities. The financing plan will be brought to the Council...which could accept, reject or modify it [potentially including adjusting the size of the project to make the financing plan pencil out].
City Hall would then solicit bids and select a construction firm; management hopes for completion about four years from now in April 2011.
LB's non-elected (but appealable) Planning Commission and Cultural Heritage Commission would also have to approve any final design plans.
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