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    SCAG Exec. Dir. Warns If Regional Airport Plan (Expanding Palmdale & Ontario) Doesn't Fly, "Political Pressure" Will Mount On Others, Including LB, To Take More Flights

    (January 15, 2004) -- In a warning that challenges assurances given some LB Councilmembers that LB's Airport Noise Ordinance will protect residents from increased flights beyond its terms, the Executive Director of the Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG) has publicly told the LB City Council that if SCAG's regional airport plan to increase air traffic at Palmdale and Ontario airports (to make up for the scuttled El Toro airport) doesn't pan out, pressure will mount on other developed airports, including Long Beach, to take additional flights.

    Mark Pisano, SCAG Executive Director, told Councilmembers on January 13, "[T]his is critical to you [in Long Beach] -- if we don't find solutions to resolve the pressure, there will be increased pressure -- notwithstanding legal protections around Long Beach today, there will be continued political pressure to use already developed airports."

    Mr. Pisano's statement arguably bolsters concerns voiced by a number of residents, including LBHUSH2 founder Rae Gabelich (now an 8th district Council candidate) that City Hall's plan to expand LB Airport's permanent terminal and parking facilities could invite future flights by putting in place infrastructure capacity that could be used to support it. Lawn signs now dot the 4th and 8th Council districts stating "Say No To Airport Expansion."

    LB officials, who call their Airport plans "enhancements" to accommodate passengers allowed under LB's noise ordinance, have repeatedly said they have no plans to expand the Airport. City officials say permanent enlarged Airport terminal and parking facilities (to replace "temporary" facilities previously emplaced by City Hall without environmental review) reflect accommodation of flights now allowed, not expansion.

    4th district Councilman Dennis Carroll -- who faces a reelection challenge from Los Altos resident Patrick O'Donnell in April 2004 -- has argued that LB's Airport Noise Ordinance, not the size of its terminal and parking facilities, is key to controlling the number of flights. Carroll has further argued that increasing the Airport's terminal and parking facilities to accommodate passengers already permitted under the LB's Airport noise ordinance (41 flights per day for aircraft over 75,000 pounds, 25 per day for aircraft under 75,000 pounds) is a prudent step to help buttress LB's ordinance against challenge by air carriers or the FAA and thus keep LB airport a "neighborhood airport."

    On December 23, Councilman Carroll and 5th district Councilwoman Jackie Kell agendized, and the Council voted, to prepare a non-binding Council resolution stating the Council's opposition to increasing Airport flights beyond levels as allowed under LB's airport noise ordinance. (As of this posting, the resolution's precise text hasn't returned to the Council for a final vote.)

    When SCAG Executive Director Pisano said if his agency's regional airport plan doesn't fly, "notwithstanding legal protections around Long Beach today [LB's Airport Noise Ordinance], there will be continued political pressure to use already developed airports," no Councilmembers spoke up in dissent.

    SCAG does not have the power to impose additional flights...but as a regional government body it can effectively steer federal and state money in support of its plans and thereby influence local land use planning, development and decisionmaking. SCAG's draft Regional Transportation Plan accepts the cap on LAX growth sought by southbay cities as well as LB's estimated 3.8 million annual passengers expected from filling all 41 + 25 flight slots under LB's noise budgeted Airport Noise Ordinance.

    Following receipt of written public comment on the draft Plan by February 9, SCAG's 75 member Regional Council will likely begin discussions in March...and has the power to change elements of the Plan. A final SCAG vote is currently expected in April 2004.

    LB Councilmembers Bonnie Lowenthal and Tonia Reyes-Uranga are LB's two voting members of SCAG's Regional Council. SCAG Executive Director Pisano addressed the Council in response to an item agendized by Councilmembers Lowenthal and Reyes-Uranga to present an overview of local impacts of SCAG's draft Plan, which also deals with freeway and housing density issues.

    Our extended excerpt below is unofficial, compiled by us; ellipses indicate deletions; not all speakers or their comments are transcribed.

    Mr. Pisano: ...The basic regional plan that was developed several years ago was undermined by the fact that the voters in Orange County, by initiative, elected not to allow development on El Toro. It put a substantial hole in the region's aviation plan. That, coupled with the fact that the region and the city of L.A. concur that we should not further the development of LAX airport, that the 78 million annual passenger target is what we should adhere to for the future.

    That creates a problem for the region. The way we're addressing it is to further decentralize the demand in the region to the outlying airport. How do we do that? Two things.

    The first is by having a high speed ground access that allows residents in the urban portion of the region to access the outlying airports. The technology that we're looking to is MAGLEV technology. We know that it's feasible. The Chinese have built a line from their new airport in Pudong to downtown Shanghai. It is operating today...The line we believe can be privately financed...

    The second major strategy in airports -- because this is critical to you [in Long Beach] -- if we don't find solutions to resolve the pressure, there will be increased pressure -- notwithstanding legal protections around Long Beach today, there will be continued political pressure to use already developed airports.

    So it's the region's policy to recognize the constraints at Long Beach, and to find ways in which we can access other airports so that we remove that economic and political pressure.

    Mayor O'Neill: Thank you.

    Mr. Pisano: ...The key to it is, we've concluded, we don't need a regional airport authority. We need LAWA [L.A. World Airports] to operate its three airports as a regional airport system with international at all three airports: LAX, Ontario and Palmdale, and equalizing the cost of service among the three airports and then using the ground access system...

    [intervening discussion]

    Councilwoman Richardson: ...What is the status of Palmdale?...

    Mr. Pisano: [W]e have forecast for the year 2030 Palmdale at almost 14 million annual passengers. That's the size currently of Oakland. That's the highest forecast that has ever been made for Palmdale...and the reason for that is I believe I've explained in my presentation.

    With El Toro, and we were counting on 30 million annual passengers at El Toro, with that not there, how does the region handle that demand? It handles that demand with Ontario going to 30 million passengers and Palmdale going to 13 [or] 14 million passengers.

    How do we do that? We do that by having the time period to access Palmdale and Ontario be less than it is for a person who lives in Long Beach accessing LAX. Your trips to Palmdale and to Ontario would be, if you live anywhere in the basin, with high speed access would be 25-30 minutes. To Ontario would be 18-20 minutes. We believe that that type of access, coupled with LAWA, Los Angeles World Airports, managing their airports as an integrated system with service at all airports, that we'll achieve those levels.

    Today, Palmdale is struggling to have any passengers. Had passenger service three years ago, and the airline flying in could not support it.

    The airlines have really indicated to us that if our decentralized strategy is going to work, then we have to figure out how to get people to it or it simply won't work, and secondly, we have to manage it...

    SCAG will accept comments on its draft Regional Transportation Plan through February 9 with a vote by SCAG's Regional Council thereafter.

    The Council moved 9-0 to receive and file the report on SCAG's Regional Transportation Plan.

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