Airport Advisory Comm'n Wants To See Alternatives To Airport Mgt's Latest Terminal Expansion Plan
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(July 17, 2004) -- LB's Airport Advisory Commission has declined to endorse Airport management's recently enlarged permanent terminal expansion plan without seeing smaller alternatives first.
At its July 15 meeting, the City Council-appointed panel (a majority of whose current members have some aviation ties through employment, business interests or as current or inactive private pilots) asked Airport staff to prepare two other alternatives -- one smaller, and one still smaller with parameters left to staff -- for Commission evaluation along with Airport management's proposal.
The motion by Commissioner Doug Haubert carried 6-2 (Yes: Haubert, chair Salk, Soccio, Veady, Temple, Alton; No: Luskin, Fox; Present earlier but work related time conflict caused absence on vote: Cleaver).
Commissioner Haubert, a lawyer from ELB's 4th Council district who was recommended for appointment to the Airport Advisory panel by now-outgoing Councilman Dennis Carroll, argued that expansion of the Airport's permanent terminal area facilities should be approached in a manner that improves LB's ability to protect and defend its Airport noise ordinance.
In June 2004, Airport management proposed expanding LB Airport's terminal facilities beyond the size it proposed less than a year earlier in a Sept. 2003 Notice of Preparation of Environmental Impact Report (EIR). [For comparisons, click here.]
Airport management's June 2004 proposal largely paralleled May 2004 recommendations by HNTB, an architectural, planning and engineering firm hired by Airport management. The firm has designed and built other major projects nationally -- including airports elsewhere and major parts of the Alameda Corridor locally.
In releasing its May recommendations, HNTB said its proposed sizing was based on industry standards and an FAA advisory...which the firm then downsized in some respects in view of LB Airport's physical limitations. Most of HNTB's and Airport management's recommended expansion involved concession space and to a lesser extent security screening areas.
In an extemporaneous but methodical presentation, Commissioner Haubert argued that applying "industry standards" could undercut features that many people applaud and desire at LB Airport, including its compact size and short walking distances.
[Some critics] have compared our Airport to a "third world" airport. Well you know what, I've heard a lot more people praise our airport. I've heard a lot more people talk about the convenience of the Long Beach Airport. They don't have to walk a mile to get to their flight.
I think you're trading. I think it'd be convenient to have more seats, and it'd be convenient to have more concession space, but you're giving up the convenience of having the short walks from the parking to the gates through the terminal. There are conveniences that we are going to be giving up...
...I've heard a lot of people say they love our Airport. Our Airport is a very good airport and...we've made more efficient use of the space...
[Airport management's recommended expansion sizes] so far have been based on what have been described as "industry standards"...Well you know what, industry standards are suggested guidelines to follow.
And if we followed "industry standards" there'd be no Belmont Shore. There'd be no Colorado Blvd. in Pasadena or the Santa Monica Main Street. The "industry standard" would say with that number of shops you would need twice, three times as much parking, the streets would have to be four lanes instead of two lanes...You know what, they created a very pedestrian friendly, attractive shopping destination...[I]f you listen to the planners, it would be upside down; it should be a failure, Belmont Shore should be a failure, Colorado [Blvd. in Pasadena] should be a failure, the Gas Lamp [District] in San Diego should be a failure.
And you know what happened, people looked at that and they saw that actually if you deviate from these "industry standards" you might actually improve on them, and now cities are using those as an examples of what they want they want to do...
Commissioner Haubert urged approaching expansion of the Airport's permanent in a strategic manner that would help protect and defend LB's Airport noise ordinance:
...If our fundamental concern is retaining [our local control] I think we have to take strategic steps to make sure that we retain that control. And I don't think there's been any analysis here on the line of strategic planning.
What can we do to put ourselves in a better position?...I do know [that in the future] there's going to be incredible pressure on us...I think we need to get our ducks in order and I think we need to move forward...
...I know this is going to upset a lot of my neighbors and a lot of my friends, I don't think you can just stop at the need and just ignore the wants, because I do think we want to talk about the things that would make Long Beach Airport bigger...This is about convenience. I want to make this Airport more convenient. And that means we are going to have to someday expand the size of this terminal. We are going to have to make the holdrooms bigger. We are going to have to make the baggage claims bigger. We are going to have to go in that direction.
...[But] I see absolutely nothing wrong with...looking at this thing strategically...[O]ne thing we may all agree is a need is and that is to protect our noise ordinance. We have to put that need ahead of our other wants...
...[Airport management's recommendation is]...a monumental, large scale increase, and right now I will say that I don't think the case has been made that this is a need...[Haubert describes what he saw during Airport Advisory Commission visit to the site] I actually did a head count of the seats...50% [of the seats] in the JetBlue holdroom...were empty...[T]here were people standing up and there were people talking and coming in [but] 50% of the seats were empty. We went to the other holdroom, 70% of the seats were empty. Again, people were standing up, people were milling about, but I don't think anybody can tell me that with 50% of the seats empty at the peak hour on one of the peak days which I think were chosen for the purpose of showing us what a "crisis" is there at the airport. I will say it's crowded. I will say it's very crowded. I would not say we're at a crisis point...
[later in presentation]
...We need to call [Airport management's proposal] what this is, and it's not a need, it's a want. This is not a necessity. We have 41 flights coming and going right now, and you know what, it works. JetBlue is doing a great job. Airport staff is doing a great job. It does work.
People compliment our airport. They really do. We get great compliments about our airport. The parking is very convenient. Everything is convenient at the airport. Do I think we could make is better? I think this is a want. I think this is a convenience to the passengers that use Long Beach Airport and I support that. I support making it more convenient for them.
And I do think...I would support making it more convenient by increasing the size of the holdrooms and increasing the size of the concessions. I don't think I would agree with what's on the table here...It may be that some Commissioners want the smallest version. Other Commissioners want the largest version, but right now all we have is the largest version [management's proposal] in my opinion...
[Haubert describes Alternatives he wants to see. Alternative A is Airport management's proposal]...Alternative B would be an alternative that encompasses all of these details but it's scaled down from Alternative A. And the third would be Alternative C which would be even scaled down further from Alternative B.
And the purpose of these three Alternatives is to look at the varying degrees of how this could be expanded. I was going to talk about reducing by 1/3, and then another 1/3 [but] I'm not going to make that because I want staff to put together their thoughts on what could be done.
And again, I really do think...we can talk about this in terms of what really, really is needed. And this may force staff to think more creatively on the use of space efficiently.
But I want to talk about three Alternatives. I'm not going to put any [specific] parameters on staff, other than [Alternative] B should be reduced from what we see before us now [Airport management's proposal], and Alternative C should be reduced from that even further.
And that would be my substitute motion.
LB Airport Manager Chris Kunze requested sixty days in which to get input from HNTB and produce a response that's not merely a proportionally reduced plan.
Following the Commission's action, JetBlue's Director of West Coast Operations, Alex Wilcox, commented at the podium during public comment period:
I especially appreciated the powerful comments tonight of Commissioner Haubert who I think has put his finger on the pivotal issues here, and is there a correlation between a "Taj Majal" size terminal and more flights. I'm not sure, either, and I think that's a judgment call in the end. No one has a crystal ball.
However, I will say Commissioner Haubert, you seem especially enamored with surveys with a sample size of one: you mentioned that you saw 50% of the seats in our terminal not occupied on a given night...
With respect to [your] sample sizing, yes there are only a few periods a day when terminal is overfull. Right now, your house is probably only 66% occupied [so applying Haubert's reasoning] why do you need [an expansion for your family's new baby] if you have the whole half a bedroom free right now?...
...With respect to the size of the terminal, how many flights you can squeeze through, I would offer to the Commission a guideline that we use in planning how many flights we can send to a city, just in terms of full disclosure, the guideline industry average in gate utilization is around three and a half to four planes per day per date. If you're really good and really efficient, like a Southwest Airlines or like a JetBlue in some cases, you can use gates up to ten times a day. So can theoretically run a hundred flights a day out of our current facility with the ten parking spots, and you could theoretically maximize 160 flights a day out of the [proposed] sixteen gate facility.
If that's helpful to you, I just offer that in the spirit of further information.
In the coming weeks, the Airport Advisory Commission is expected also to make recommendations on the scope of issues to be addressed in the permanent Airport terminal facilities EIR. The Council was scheduled to vote on the EIR's scope in December 2003...but instead referred the issue first to the Airport Advisory Commission. The Council action effectively delayed a Council vote on the Airport terminal issue until after the April and June 2004 Council elections.
In those elections, voters replaced Council incumbents Dennis Carroll and Rob Webb with Patrick O'Donnell and Rae Gabelich who take office on July 20. Ms. Gabelich founded and led LBHUSH2, a grassroots group dissatisfied with City Hall Airport policies. Mr. O'Donnell, backed by the LB Police Officers Ass'n, has no public affiliation with LBHUSH2...although bright orange lawn signs declaring "Say NO to Airport Expansion" continue to dot the 4th and 8th Council districts.
On June 17, 2004, Airport management released new, larger recommended sizes for permanent Airport terminal facilities. Its figures reflect those recommended in May by Airport management's hired firm, HNTB...which applied a higher annual passenger forecast (up from 3.8 million to 4.2 million) citing higher empirical load factors (percentage of seats filled) and more recent aircraft designs.
At the July 15, 2004 Airport Advisory Commission meeting, Michael Gatzke, City Hall's special aviation counsel, indicated that a new Notice of Preparation (NOP) might be in order [if the project selected for EIR study is significantly larger or different than what Airport management's previous NOP proposed.]
The ultimate decision on the size of the proposed permanent terminal facilities, and the scope of the EIR issues, will be decided by the City Council in the coming months.
June 2004: Details Of City Mgt's Proposed LB Airport Permanent Terminal Facilities Expansion; Parts Are Larger Than City Hall's Notice of EIR Preparation For Project In Sept. 03
June 2004: FAA-Sponsored Study Puts LB Airport on Nat'l List It Contends Will Need Add'l Capacity By 2013 & 2020
June 2004: July 2001 City Mgr. Letter Responded To JetBlue Requests For Airport Improvements & Services By Itemizing $55+ Million In City-Provided Marketing + Airport Improvements + Lakewood Blvd. Improvements Then Underway or Scheduled
June 2004: Size Matters @ LGB: LB Airport-Hired Firm Recommends Significant Expansion of Airport's Terminal Area Facilities; LBHUSH2 Urges Health Risk Assessment First, Minimum Expansion in Stages...And Creating Airport Ordinance Litigation Fund -- Paid By Airport Revenues -- To Protect LB From Future Legal Challenges
May 2004: LB Airport Mgt. Now Forecasts Closer To 4.1-4.2 Million Annual Passengers (Not 3.8 Million), Citing Higher Load Factors & New Aircraft Designs
March 2004: City Mgt. Responds To FAA Draft Study Listing LB Airport Among Those Nat'lly Needing Increased Capacity By 2013
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