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    The Airport

    (January 31, 2005) -- The LB City Council is poised to make one of the most important decisions in this city's history. At stake is whether LB Airport, mainly benign until recently, will become malignant. We don't flinch from that term. Malignancy is defined as uncontrolled growth.

    Ignoring warnings by others, past City Hall actions have increased the risk of uncontrolled Airport growth.

    In a responsible manner, three Councilmembers -- Patrick O'Donnell, Tonia Reyes Uranga and Rae Gabelich -- have advanced a constructive, positive plan that replaces Council-created delays with healthier practices.

    The trio's proposed sizing is acknowledged as plausible by Airport management. It's bigger than what LB Airport management itself proposed in September 2003. (Source: Official "Notice of [EIR] Preparation" released September 2003.)

    They've also proposed a resident and stakeholder protection plan, an overdue strategy to intelligently protect and defend the city's crucial Airport Noise Ordinance.

    These are thoughtful, constructive proposals that merit approval.

    You may hear some people charge that these Councilmembers, or LBHUSH2, or other homeowners have delayed the proceedings or put LB's noise ordinance at risk. This is false. The truth is exactly the opposite.

    It is LB City Hall that provably put LB's noise ordinance at risk. It is LB City Hall which has provably delayed LB Airport enhancements.

    Despite these facts, we continue to read with amazement assertions like the following in the Jan. 31 Press-Telegram:

    "And the environmental impact report on the project needed before the council can decide whether to proceed with any improvements at all cannot begin until a council vote on its scope," the PT said, adding "The council has set that for Feb. 8."

    No, the Council didn't set a Feb. 8 date. Management chose the date. It is arbitrary. It isn't part of some sacrosanct process.

    More importantly, the Council was scheduled to vote on the scope of the EIR in December 2003. That has been inexcusably delayed -- for over a year -- because the City Council delayed it.

    With elections then-looming in airport-impacted 4th and 8th districts, the Council diverted the Airport terminal issue to its pro-aviation tilted "Airport Advisory Commission"...effectively ducking a Council vote until after the election. (4th and 8th district voters threw out their incumbents anyway.)

    Simply put: LB Airport improvements were NOT delayed by LBHUSH2 or pesky homeowners. They were delayed by the Council our view, for craven political purposes.

    LB management then had the temerity to use this delay to balloon the size of its preferred Airport terminal even further. By May-June 2004, its proposed sizes had grown so much larger than what it proposed in Sept. 2003 that City Hall was forced to say it would issue an entirely new Notice of [EIR] Preparation" to restart the process.

    Airport management ballooned its terminal plans with help from a big firm that it hired, HNTB, which in addition to airport planning also builds big public works projects like the Alameda Corridor...and also builds airports when asked.

    Airport management didn't direct HNTB to come up with the most modest proposal possible under LB's noise ordinance. Those options only came out after the Airport advisory panel insisted on seeing alternatives. Those alternatives were accompanied by whining that reducing gargantuan concession areas might reduce city concession money.

    (Ask yourself: how many candy bars would an Airport snack shop have to sell to make up for millions of dollars in reduced property taxes if home values fall in airport adjacent neighborhoods?)

    Some people in LB call the Port as a "success" even though it hurts people's health, and costs taxpayers a fortune in infrastructure and won't commit to capping pollution beyond present levels. They needn't be taken seriously in the Airport debate. Their record convinces us that they will call LB Airport a "success" even if it does to multiple parts of LB what the Port did to WLB...and (on a larger level) LAX did to Inglewood.

    City Hall's Airport recklessness in this deserves review. Within months of Beverly O'Neill taking power, City Hall moved swiftly to settle a lawsuit against LB's Airport noise ordinance. As part of the settlement, air carriers agreed not to sue LB...until 2001.

    City Hall could have used the intervening years to develop a thoughtful city strategy that would safeguard the ordinance against a future attack. Instead, the O'Neill administration Councils did nothing in this regard until 2001 arrived. Then it made matters worse.

    In a reversal of long-standing LB policy -- which treated 41 + 25 daily flights as a worst case to be avoided -- City Hall began treating these flights as a goal to be achieved.

    (City Hall's "Strategic Plan" didn't authorize this. It advocated maximizing "economic return." We are unaware of data to date demonstrating that maximizing flights maximizes taxpayers' economic return. Indeed, there's empirical evidence to the contrary. Poverty increased and City Hall's deficit persisted despite quintupling LGB passenger levels.)

    While smarter cities worked to protect their residents from increasing airport impacts, LB City Hall invited them. So obsessed was City Hall with pursuing this that it did what it told the public it would not do: it risked LB's Airport Noise Ordinance.

    In May 2001, city management agendized an innocuous appearing item to change the way LB Airport allocated its flight slots, letting carriers hold them longer before flying them.

    In a now-infamous 8-1 vote (motion by Kell, Carroll dissenting), the Council approved this...and within days, JetBlue took all of LB Airport's then-available large aircraft flight slots, instantly maxing them out. subsequently learned that prior to the Council vote, City Hall officialdom had contacts with JetBlue. Incredibly, some Councilmembers considered it acceptable to, in effect, hoodwink LB residents to accommodate a corporation as part of a backroom deal to fill the Airport's 41 large aircraft flight slots. For the record, the Council's action was not required by the FAA or any court order.

    What the Council did had near-catastrophic consequences. Some Airport carriers launched an FAA administrative proceeding that could have led to FAA enforcement action or a lawsuit. Fortunately, LB's City Attorney office did some fancy footwork, hired expert Aviation counsel Mike Gatzke and skillfully negotiated a settlement with complaining carriers, assisted by JetBlue which gave up some of the flight slots it took.

    In accepting this, the FAA said that it considered the Council's May 2001 action unreasonable and insisted that it be reversed (and it was).

    Simply put: It was LB City Hall, not LBHUSH2, that put LB's Airport Noise ordinance at real risk.

  • In May 2002 -- just weeks before the incumbent Mayor faced a reelection runoff -- City Hall staged two "town hall" type meetings, one in Bixby Knolls/Cal Hts, the other in Los Altos...both airport impacted and high propensity voter areas. City officials assured residents their city was working to preserve the airport noise ordinance...the same one the Council had endangered with its vote (8-1) a year earlier.

    Meanwhile, out of public view, city staff was quietly working to advance an Airport terminal expansion plan that sought to avoid serious public input nearly entirely. (again) reported it...and after a public outcry, the Council ordered preparation of EIR...but got away with permitting temporary facilities to increase passenger capacity in the interim. The result was that City Hall worked JetBlue to install modular facilities...the same ones the carrier now calls "trailers" and complains about.

    The real issue on the Airport vote isn't square footage. It's about a square deal. When LB residents played by the rules and trusted their officials, LB City Hall blindsided them, hoodwinked them, moved the goal post, invented its own rules and failed to keep its word.

    The coming Council vote will show who in LB finds this acceptable...and who doesn't.

    Smart Councilmembers don't let others treat LB as a regional doormat. They don't risk the city's second largest revenue source -- property taxes -- for deals that sacrifice family home values, quality of life and health and safety for crumbs.

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