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    Common Ground On The Airport

    (April 24, 2007) -- Growth is healthy but uncontrolled growth is deadly. Uncontrolled growth is cancer. Only a quack doctor would inject potentially malignant cells in a patient and consider it a cure.

    The legacy of prior civic quackery on the Airport will be evident at tonight's (April 24) City Council meeting. We recap some frequently forgotten facts below.

    In our opinion, the issue isn't expanded terminal square footage by itself. It's a disturbing, we think dangerous, lack of an overall coherent City Hall commitment -- demonstrated by significant resources, advocacy materials and organized political clout -- focused on identifying threats at an early stage and neutralizing any actions that could jeopardize LB's noise ordinance.

    Preventing the loss of LB's noise ordinance -- considered among the most progressive in the country -- is what all sides on the Airport issue say they want. There ought to be civic common ground on this, regardless of differing views on the sizing issue.

    In defending LB's noise ordinance, City Hall hopes not to lose. Our opponents will be playing to win. Unless City Hall builds on its strengths, finds common ground and amplifies its efforts, LB will lose.

    LB City Hall needs to marshal a mountain of facts, persuasively assembled, backed by evidence and arguments, ready to dispense at a moment's notice, citing multiple reasons on the merits why LB shouldn't and can't and won't take more flights than our progressive, court-approved noise ordinance allows.

    And that's just for starters. Those facts don't mean much without real-world political support. Mayor Bob Foster knows how to deliver this at the local, regional and congressional level...and those allies need to be in place now. Tiny southbay cities managed to forge a local-regional-federal coalition that stopped LAX expansion. L.A. County's second largest city needs to do at least as much to protect itself.

    Doing less as the Council expands the Airport's permanent terminal area facilities -- based on an EIR that Mayor-elect Foster said shouldn't be certified -- would be like expecting an approaching Hurricaine Katrina and not bolstering the levies and readying resources in advance.

    In our view, protecting the City's residential property tax base and LB families' most important investments are at least as important as lobbying for the Port's Gerald Desmond bridge...and requires City Council allocated resources (from Airport or General Fund revenue) to match.

    Instead, city management appears to be setting the goal post at the five yard line, offering a watered down version of minimally protective policies offered by some EIR appellants. (Their proposals are less than the larger protective measures we advocate here.) And "policies" mean nothing without resources. More on that below.

    But first some history is in order. LB faces potential uncontrolled growth now because past Councils let former Mayor O'Neill reverse years of prior LB policy, changing filled Airport flight slots from a tolerated court-mandated burden into a City Hall-sought goal.

    We consider this civic quackery, the opposite of what smarter communities did. While other cities fought to protect their residents from more flights, LB solicited them.

    City Hall then did exactly what it promised residents it wouldn't do: City Hall put LB's Airport noise ordinance at risk.

    In an infamous May 2001 action that then-management portrayed as benign, the Council voted 8-0 (Carroll dissenting) to let air carriers hold flight slots longer before flying them. Within days, LB residents learned rest of the story. City Hall officials communicated with JetBlue before the vote...and after the vote JetBlue took all of LB Airport's vacant flight slots, immediately maxing them out. [We blame City Hall, not JetBlue, for all of the consequences that have followed.]

    City Hall's action nearly triggering a lawsuit, and did prompt a local FAA administrative proceeding. City Attorney Shannon and Special Aviation Counsel Gatzke (with cooperation from JetBlue) managed to craft an FAA approved settlement...but the FAA concluded that what LB did in May 2001 was wrong and the Council ultimately had to rescind its vote.

    But the damage was done. JetBlue's new flights triggered a push for expanded permanent facilities. The City Council (not activists) stalled this by diverting the matter first to an advisory body as 2004 Council elections loomed; management then trotted out even larger plans than first proposed; cooler heads prevailed and the proposal now sought by management -- based on an EIR now under legal challenge -- is roughly the size management initially wanted.

    We honestly don't know where this will lead. We do know that all sides say LB's noise ordinance must be protected at all costs.

    Even if there isn't common ground on square footage, there should be common ground on the Council adopting the toughest, most neighborhood protective (not weakest) airport policies and conditions possible to accompany the action.

    Additionally, City Hall policies are lipservice without resources. We urge the Council to designate a City Hall "red team," backed by budgeted resources, tasked create and to deliver to the Mayor, Councilmembers and management on an ongoing basis continually updated, factual ammunition they can use to deter and defend against any moves against LB's Airport noise ordinance. (A similar message, with materials, should be shared with LB's new DC advocacy firm).

    And finally, we urge Mayor Foster to view any Council vote to expand the Airport's permanent facilities as carrying a corresponding obligation to use his political clout to assemble the army of allied lawmakers locally, regionally and in DC that LB may need on the Airport in the future.

    Both sides on the Airport issue have said they believe the other could invite a challenge to our noise ordinance. Whatever the outcome, that verbiage is enough for LB residents to expect that whatever sizing is ultimately approved, their Mayor and City Council will accompany it with the reasonable city-protective measures above.

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