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    In Depth

    Three Airport Advisory Commission Members Send 18 Point Letter Detailing Reasons For More Modest Airport Expansion Than Favored By Airport Mgt.

    (January 19, 2005) -- In a point by point presentation, three members of LB's Airport Advisory Commission -- Doug Haubert, Bruce Alton and Carol Soccio -- have written to 4th district Councilman Patrick O'Donnell listing 18 reasons why they consider city staff's proposed expansion of LB Airport's permanent terminal area facilities "critically flawed."

    They urge the Council to "give direction to Airport staff to improve the plan to reach consensus, then bring it back for Council consideration."

    In an 11 page January 17 letter (which includes 12 pages of attachments) cc'd to LB Mayor Beverly O'Neill, City Manager Jerry Miller and Airport Manager Chris Kunze, the Airport Advisory Commission members state in part:

    Like many others, we support Airport terminal improvements that make the Airport more attractive and convenient and we feel it is important to come to closure on a proposed terminal sizing. However, the proposed Airport terminal expansion plan is critically flawed in many ways that should be fixed before a Notice of [EIR] Preparation is accepted by the Council. If City staff is not directed to make changes so a consensus can be achieved on these issues, once the EIR process begins the City will be moving forward with a bad project and lose its negotiating position with the airlines and the FAA. The residents of Long Beach will be the losers.

    It is not unreasonable to support modest growth at the Airport, and some growth can occur while protecting our Noise Ordinance. The proposed plan falls short of doing this...

    The letter makes 18 points, including:

    • The proposed expansion is oversized: "...Why increase the permanent facility by 380%, when we expect a maximum passenger increase of 22%?"

    • The need for larger facilities is overstated: "...The situation at LGB is not dire. In fact, passengers love the convenience of the smaller Long Beach Airport. In a recent J.D. Powers and Associates "Airport Satisfaction Survey," Long Beach received higher ratings than any other airport in California..."

    • Increasing the size of LGB could make it less convenient: "LGB is not the terrible airport that some would make it out to be. In fact, LGB is a favored airport because it is small and convenient..."

    • This expansion plan sends the message that Long Beach wants more flights: "...Airport staff has ignored statements from national and regional sources that LGB will grow beyond its ordinance by 2010. How can Airport staff continue to do this once Long Beach voluntarily expands its terminals? At a minimum, Long Beach should get assurances from regional airport officials that they understand LGB will not be taking any more flights before moving forward with the proposed expansion plan."

    • Airport expansion could jeopardize the noise ordinance: "...Currently, there is no incentive to challenge the Noise Ordinance to get more flights as holdroom space is so limited.

      Airport staff does not dispute the fact that building too large a terminal could create an incentive for an airline to challenge our noise ordinance. Staff simply believes that the proposed plan is not large enough to trigger a challenge. We believe it is...

    • If the Noise Ordinance is successfully challenged, the effects would be devastating to Long Beach neighborhoods: "...Long Beach would lose control over the number of flights and the hours of operation (curfew). There could be far more flights over Long Beach neighborhoods -- day and night.

      A dramatic increase in flights would not just harm some residents in some neighborhoods -- it would eventually be a citywide catastrophe. Pollution and traffic would increase. When home prices in the flight path drop, the effect would ripple across other neighborhoods.

      Long Beach should not expand its terminals at all until there is a strategic look at how we could protect the Noise Ordinance. The current Airport Terminal Expansion plan adopts a "head in the sand" posture and shows great indifference for those living in the flight path...

    The Commissioners note that the letter "represents our personal opinions, forged after many hours of listening to the public debate and the facts. We represent the minority of the AAC. The AAC majority accepted staff's recommendation verbatim -- without offering a single change. While we see the controversy over airport expansion from a different viewpoint than does the rest of the AAC, we think our views are just as valid and should be considered by the Council." posts the text of the Commissioners' letter in pdf form on a link below.

    The pointed correspondence comes as city management presses the City Council for a February 8 vote that would authorize staff to prepare an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for a larger expansion of LB's permanent airport terminal facilities than Airport management first proposed.

    The Council was originally scheduled to vote on the EIR scope in December 2003...and it was for a smaller expansion sought by Airport management than now sought. In fall 2003, Councilmembers delayed their vote by referring the Airport issue first to a City Hall-appointed "Airport Advisory Commission," a body without power to decide matters, only advise.

    The Council action effectively ensured that a vote wouldn't occur until after April and June 2004 Council elections. In those elections, airport-impacted voters in the 4th and 8th Council districts ultimately removed two incumbents backed by LB Mayor Beverly O'Neill.

    During the intervening period, Airport management worked with HNTB (a firm that does planning, helped build the Alameda Corridor and has built airports elsewhere) to come up with new facility sizes. In May 2004, HNTB proposed sizes that are significantly larger than what Airport management first suggested. HNTB says it actually downsized its recommendations to some extent as a result of LB Airport's constricted physical site.

    HNTB says its figures reflect updated, empirical LB Airport passenger levels (from newer aircraft and higher passenger levels), FAA guidelines and "industry standards." In 2001, LB City Hall told the Southern CA Association of Governments that LB Airport was expected to handle 3.0 million annual passengers by 2025...a figure SCAG accepted. HNTB now says LB Airport will likely handle 4.2-4.3 million annual passengers well before 2025 when all flight slots are filled.

    Airport management backs HNTB's proposed sizes...which are so much larger than what city management originally proposed that City Hall plans to issue an entirely new Notice of Preparation for the EIR.

    In July 2004, the Airport Advisory Commission asked for two smaller alternatives to the HNTB-Airport management sizing. HNTB and Airport staff provided the alternatives but HNTB contended that reducing the size of concession areas would produce less city revenue. In September 2004, the Airport Advisory Commission voted 6-3 (Haubert, Alton and Soccio dissenting) to approve Airport management's larger proposed expansion, then spent another month on additional recommendations.

    The first time Councilmembers themselves actually heard and discussed management's larger proposed permanent Airport terminal facility sizes was at a November 2004 study session. At that time, several Councilmembers asked questions and suggested alternatives. With intervening holidays, city staff didn't respond until a January 2005 study session.

    After these two Council study sessions, city management now says it intends to agendize its larger permanent Airport terminal facilities for a possible Council vote on the EIR's scope on February 8.

    The letter by the dissenting Airport Advisory Commission members can be accessed on the link below. Its attachments are omitted since they include some copyrighted news articles and an item cited in pertinent part in the letter text itself.

    To view the letter, click: Jan. 17, 2005 Letter by Airport Advisory Commission members Haubert, Alton & Soccio (11 pages, 1.5 MB).

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