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The Danger at the Airport

(March 27, 2002) -- American Airlines has given us fair warning. They are prepared to crash their planes into our city's Airport noise ordinance.

This isn't about four flights. If not handled intelligently and assigned sufficient resources, it could ultimately turn LB into Newark by the Sea, leaving us with roughly the same right to control our Airport as North Koreans have on everything.

Like an uncontrolled growth in our belly that spreads damage beyond, an uncontrolled airport will bring federally protected pollution, health and safety risks, truck and bus diesel filth, jammed freeways, gridlocked streets, demolished infrastructure and less property tax revenue with citywide consequences. It's not in this city's interest to become a corporate doormat for transient travellers.

If LB property values fall anywhere, City Hall will have less property tax revenue to spend everywhere from Belmont Shore to NLB, less money to fund police, fire, parks, libraries and infrastructure.

If tourists can't get downtown when airport traffic jams the 405 the way the 710 is jammed now, those cars, buses and trucks will turn 7th St. into a de facto crosstown freeway and central LB into a fume box.

Avoiding this requires a high level, coordinated political and legal strategy and all the clout LB's Mayor and Councilmembers boast about.

Some of us tried to sound the alarm when smaller cities from the Southbay to El Toro moved to protect their residents from airport impacts. LB City Hall responded to the gathering storm by pretending it wouldn't hit.

Putting our heads in the sand has put our butts in the air. We can no longer afford paralysis. Our best defense is a good offense. So let's roll.

We advise three "A's":

  • Ammunition. L.A. airport officialdom has hired experts to prepare a report showing where additional airport capacity should go since El Toro (absent a successful court challenge) will become a park.

    LB should immediately retain first rate aviation experts to fast track a devastating, detailed factual report showing -- on the merits -- all the reasons why additional flights cannot safely or reasonably go here and why doing so is unwise and unnecessary. Stocking the ammunition we need to defend our interests should be priority one now.

  • Advocacy. The Press-Telegram editorialized against an El Toro airport. Safety first, the PT opined. We urge our readers never to forget this.

    El Toro's defeat could now put pressure on LB to take more flights. We urge readers never to forget that either.

    Meanwhile, smaller Southbay cities seeking to restrain LAX expansion have lined up some members of Congress (Congressmembers Jane Harman and Dana Rohrabacher, among them) and Supervisor Don Knabe to support a "regional" airport solution that "spreads the burdens." [They haven't said where; it may be mainly inland like Ontario, but we can't count on that.]. They pressed their case with the Bush administration's Secretary of Transportation and FAA and now a federal task force is devising a plan for this.

    If (as we suspect) LB wasn't at the table, we need to move swiftly to counteract any damage done. Mayor O'Neill has repeatedly travelled to Washington seeking money for the Port (recently on security). She needs to use her advocacy to secure the help of LB's Congressional delegation (Horn, Millender-McDonald and likely returning Rohrabacher) to oppose any federal attempt to bust LB's flight limits. Ditto, Senators Feinstein and Boxer.

    Meanwhile, County Supervisor Knabe, whose district includes us, is a major player on the Southern California Regional Airport Authority, an entity with rejuvenated legal powers. City Hall needs to tend to this and ensure his support in our efforts to protect our flight limits.

  • Attorneys. If this fight escalates to legal blows, Councilmembers and taxpayers should support an overwhelming legal response to repel the attack and deter others. If we can avoid a lawsuit with a creative response that maintains our legally enacted flight limits, fine, but we should not eat our city's laws on demand. Incremental corporate appeasement will let others nibble us to death.

    And we must keep our eyes on the prize: solid legal work is necessary but not sufficient. If we win on the law, our adversaries and other special interests may move to change the law (via Congress) or policies (via the FAA). And if we don't prevail, we may have to press the feds for changes.

    That means while our attorneys mount our front line defense, we must prepare to fight a second front with ammunition and advocacy (above) in a coordinated strategy.

    This will be a long twilight struggle requiring our best resources and skills. We cannot be paralyzed and should not be timid. At stake is the future of this city and the health, safety and lifelong investments of its residents.

    Some may think we are a pushover. It's time to push back.

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