(December 19, 2005) -- In an item arising as American Airlines announces plans to pull out of LB Airport (and JetBlue and Alaska both seek the leftover flight slots), Councilmembers Patrick O'Donnell, Tonia Reyes Uranga and Rae Gabelich have agendized an item for the December 20 Council meeting asking the City Manager to:
1. Report in 45 days on the cost estimate of each potential alternative considered in the Airport draft Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for expansion of LB Airport's permanent terminal area facilities...including the no build option; and
2. Report in 60 days on potential financing strategies for each options that would not encumber the City for future debt obligations.
"As we move forward with the EIR process for the proposed terminal improvements at the Airport, there are several interrelated issues we need to address including a financing plan.
As stated in the Guiding Principles for the Airport," the Councilmembers write in their agendizing memo, enumerating:
As a citizen-activist prior to winning election to Council in 2004, Ms. Gabelich repeatedly raised concerns about city financial exposure if air carrier(s) pulled out of LB Airport after the city expands permanent terminal area facilities. "Will we be left holding the bag?" she'd frequently ask rhetorically.
Although LB Airport operations are supposed to be funded from Airport-related fees -- and federal law forbids directly-generated Airport revenue from funding items outside the Airport, such as General Fund police, libraries and parks -- when LB Airport flights ebbed during the mid-1990s, city management (with Council approval) tapped general taxpayer funds to keep Airport operations afloat (money now being repaid).
Other critics have said that unless properly structured, building new Airport facilities at city cost could create a continuing financial incentive to fill flight slots, effectively perpetuating the O'Neill administration's Airport policy (reversing previous LB policy without then-Council objection) of not simply filling vacant flight slots (legally required) but taking affirmative city actions to fill them (not required by law). (Airport management points to a Council-approved "2010 Strategic Plan" which refers to maximizing LB Airport's benefits...but doesn't explicitly mention filling vacant flight slots.)
The consequences of the policy have been visible since a fateful May 2001 Council vote (motion by Councilwoman Jackie Kell) in which then-city management sought to change LB's flight slot allocation rules to let carriers hold slots longer before flying them. On the heels of the Council vote (8-1, Carroll dissenting), JetBlue took all then-vacant large aircraft flight slots, prompting threats of litigation and FAA involvement until settled under a 2003 agreement in which JetBlue assisted City Hall by giving up five flight slots. With American Airlines' recently-announced departure, JetBlue and Alaska have asked for AA's flight slots, a matter LB Airport says the City Attorney will handle.
The item comes a week after eight Councilmembers rebuffed an effort by Vice Mayor/Councilmember Kell to cap extended public comment at January 6 on a draft Environmental Impact Report (EIR) to expand LB Airport's permanent terminal area facilities, voting 6-3 to approve a substitute motion by Gabelich extending the comment period to January 30.
As first reported in November by LBReport.com, Councilwoman Kell agendized an item to extend the public comment period beyond the legal minimum 45 days (due to expire December 22) until January 6. But with her proposed extension still colliding with the Christmas-New Year holidays and a lengthy draft EIR involved, Councilmembers voted to permit public comment beyond Kell's proposed limit (substitute substitute motion to extend comments to January 22 failed 4-5; substitute motion to extend to January 30 passed 6-3).
The result left Kell as the only Councilmember to twice vote against extending public comment beyond January 6. At the Council meeting, Kell's position was supported by an advocate for LB Airport area businesses and a supporter of the Airport-boosting "Long Beach Alliance." (LBReport.com detailed coverage, click here.)