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    Common Ground At The Airport

    (June 13, 2006) -- In a divisive editorial that comes after it opposed building El Toro Airport which invited pressure to expand LB Airport, the LB Press-Telegram today (June 13) urges LB Councilmembers to approve a flawed Environmental Impact Report (EIR) justifying expansion of LB Airport's permanent terminal area facilities, which will invite more pressure to expand LB Airport.

    In our opinion, LB City Hall has already arguably flouted the CA Environmental Quality Act by incrementally assembling pieces collectively inviting a cataclysmic expansion of the Airport. Using various pretexts, City Hall increased the capacity of the major approaching boulevard. It installed above-ground higher capacity fuel tanks. It supported installing high-capacity security screening now used mainly at larger airports.

    Yet in a rare public consensus, the stated positions of LB city management, outgoing and incoming Councilmembers, the outgoing and incoming Mayors and groups ranging from LBHUSH2 to the Chamber of Commerce -- and yes, even the PT -- coincide in saying LB's Airport ordinance must be protected. That common ground reflects a recognition that inviting an uncontrolled Airport in our midst -- uncontrolled being the definition of malignancy -- would put LB on track to becoming L.A. County's next Lennox.

    So...what would City Hall's Mayor, City Manager, Councilmembers say if the phone rang tomorrow and the President of the United States and his FAA administrator wanted to know why LB Airport shouldn't expand?

    Promoting the terminal's expansion without the facts organized and in hand -- leaving the city disarmed, weak, vulnerable -- without an affirmative, proactive, protective, coordinated deterrent strategy in place to protect the city from a damaging outcome is irresponsible.

    In civic terms it is less responsible than New Orleans officialdom before Katrina: LB city officials have actually helped steer a potential aviation hurricane toward the city.

    No business operating in a government-regulatory context would put itself in similar jeopardy without taking the most basic measures to protect itself. We urge Mayor-elect Foster to engage on this and move the city in a unified direction to avoid making a mockery of his campaign words about the Airport.

    Congress controls the FAA...yet city management has done nothing audible or visible to ensure that city control over the LB Airport is any better protected than city and state control over LNG. City Hall allowed its sea Port to undermine the city's position on LNG. City management is reckless in failing to safeguard the city's interests by not having a powerful, coordinated strategy in place to protect against predatory Airport actions now.

    After L.A. County Supervisor Don Knabe and L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa recently held a news conference announcing plans to revitalize the "Southern California Regional Airport Authority," Supervisor Knabe told us the agency's focus is to push flights out of the L.A. basin toward Ontario and Palmdale. That's what has LB city management done to build on that common ground...and get Supervisor Knabe to rescind a February 2005 letter seemingly written in haste to Mayor Beverly O'Neill (which she handed to the Council without dissent) claiming that anything less than a 135,000 sq. ft. Airport project invites FAA intervention?

    It's irresponsible for city management even to bring its 103,000 sq. ft max EIR back to the Council without a letter in hand from Supervisor Knabe rescinding the square footage dictate and recommended appeasement instead of backing LB on the merits.

    On taking power in 1994, Beverly O'Neill and her supporters loaded the gun now pointed at the city's head. Without any FAA or federal court requirement to do so, they invited more flights. Smarter cities don't do this...but as with LNG and the pension spike, the O'Neill administration acted stealthfully and without telling the public the whole truth.

    A so-called "red team" began operating out of public view from the 5th Council district office, seeking to promote flights at LB Airport. More flights held the key to Airport revenue that could be used to propel Airport expansion but start-up ventures mainly failed.

    Then in or about late 2000 or early 2001, a member of a City Hall-chosen "Airport Advisory Commission" touted the benefits of LB Airport to JetBlue's chairman/CEO David Neeleman. City Hall and JetBlue communicated. In May 2001, a benign appearing item popped up on the City Council agenda, proposing to change LB's flight slot allocation rules to let carriers hold them longer before flying them. The Council vote (motion by Kell) was 8-1 (Carroll dissenting). JetBlue then took all of LB's then vacant large aircraft flight slots.

    City Hall's action, done behind the public's back, did exactly what City Hall said it would never do. It put LB's Airport ordinance at risk.

    At least one carrier implied it would take court action; the FAA launched an administrative proceeding; only skilled legal work by City Attorney Bob Shannon and specially-retained aviation counsel Mike Gatzke avoided an awful outcome...for now.

    Chapman University law professor (and LB resident) John Eastman -- one of the EIR appellants expected to be heard at the Council's EIR hearing -- says expanding the Airport's permanent facilities effectively invites a devastating outcome. He says the EIR is defective under state law for failing to discuss these potential impacts publicly.

    In our view, LB city officialdom are behaving like former Soviet aparatchiks at Chernobyl, preparing to twiddle dials that could blow the roof off, contaminate the area permanently...and pretending this can't happen and will have no environmental impact

    LB City Hall management says expanding the Airport's permanent facilities merely accommodates flight levels permitted under the Airport ordinance...but in September 2003 officially proposed a project of roughly 93,000-98,000 sq. ft. That ballooned when (approaching the 2004 election cycle) the Council diverted the matter to its non-elected "Airport Advisory Commission" and management then used the intervening period to hire HNTB (a firm that builds public works projects (including the Alameda Corridor) and other Airports) which recommended a project of over 133,000 sq. ft. based on what it called "industry standards." (Airport management says it reflects new aircraft and higher load factors).

    In February 2006, the Council voted to make 103,000 sq. ft the EIR's preferred project...larger than what city management proposed originally...but that still isn't good enough for some. LB's Airport bureau released a tendentious chart (regurgitated on the front page of a recent LB Business Journal) purporting to compare LB Airport's square footage with Airports in very different market conditions. We view city management's action as inconsistent with keeping capacity to a minimum and maximizing protection of the city's noise ordinance.

    Meanwhile, reported yesterday (and others didn't) that Vice Mayor/5th district Councilwoman Jackie Kell, in whose district the Airport is, has indicated she won't be attending today's Council hearing. If she in fact fails to attend today's Council meeting and is somehow reelected despite trailing in the current voting tally, we expect she will be recalled (a measure which can lawfully begin in six months).

    We have separately learned that 4th district Councilman Patrick O'Donnell may be in his own hot water. The word "recall" is being mentioned about him if he wields a rubberstamp instead of protecting the city and his constituents from risks that others fail to grasp.

    These actions will play themselves out one way or another...but what remains is the need to find common ground. The stated positions of city management, Councilmembers, incumbent Mayor and Mayor-elect, is that LB's Airport ordinance must be protected. That means LB cannot, should not and will not accept more flights than now legally allowed.

    Protecting that means more than asserting it. It requires effective advocacy that we believe has been lacking in advancing the terminal expansion to date.

    There should unity and common ground on the need to amplify the city's protective Airport advocacy now, especially with any expansion of LB's permanent terminal area facilities.

    If there are those who disagree, we believe they should be viewed not as friends, but as foes, of this city's best interests.

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