March 25, 2004 - From the December, 2003 issue

El Segundo Mayor Gordon On LAX : What You See Depends On Where You Stand

As Mayor Hahn's $9-billion modernization plan emerges from public review, consensus on the correct way to increase the region's air travel capacity still appears a long ways away. While many local business and civic leaders have touted the economic benefits of increased capacity at LAX, many in the communities surrounding the airport are concerned about additional traffic, noise and air pollution that would come with such an expansion. These communities have long argued in favor of a regional distribution of the burdens of airport growth, advocating expanding capacity in Orange County and the Inland Empire. MIR is pleased to present this interview with Mike Gordon, Mayor of El Segundo, in which he makes the case for a passenger cap at LAX, and shares his vision for a regional airport system.


Mike Gordon

Mayor Gordon, please assess for our readers L.A. Mayor Hahn's proposed LAX airport modernization plan (Alternative D).

From the city of El Segundo's position, Alternative D presents five areas of concern. First and foremost is in the area of capacity and the potential for growth at the airport., We've opposed the airport expansion for the last six-and-a-half years. We have built a coalition of 120 cities and government agencies calling for the development of a regional airport plan that would utilize all 12 airports in the region and distribute traffic to where people live and work as opposed to forcing all the traffic to Los Angeles International Airport.

The existing facilities at LAX could accommodate as many 78 million annual passengers (MAP). Therefore, our position is that Alternative D cannot go above that number. We have just completed an analysis with respect to the airport plan and have concluded that Alternative D could create a capacity as high as 85 to 90 MAP. From our perspective, we believe that there must be a gate reduction, and that's what we're now negotiating with Mayor Hahn and his staff.

The second concern for our community deals with moving the southern runway 50 feet closer to El Segundo. We're analyzing whether moving the runway 50 feet closer to El Segundo will reduce safety concerns. Today, we have approximately 180 fly-arounds a month over our community because when planes approach to land, they are not able to land because there's something on the ground that prohibits them from doing so. By having the runway separation, we believe there's a possibility that we can reduce the problems associated with the fly-arounds, which would make the whole airport safer for LAX for travelers and the surrounding community. If we can't determine that we can actually make the airport safer by separating the runway, we're going to be concerned, because moving the runway closer to us is going to put an unfair burden upon our community.

The third issue is safety, and whether Alternative D is better protected from acts of terrorism. We're deferring the leadership on this issue to Congresswoman Jane Harman, who feels that it is possible that this airport is not as safe as it can be, and that more additional work on safety and security needs to be done.

The fourth issue is the location of the eastern terminal itself. Obviously, those people that live on the north and east side of the airport are concerned about the negative impact. We share their concerns and we're working with them to see if there's a way to minimize the negative impact, and to determine if the terminal is even necessary.

Our fifth concern is with the costs of Alternative D. We're talking about a $9-billion plan, that's one of the largest public works projects in the history of our country. Does it need to be that expensive? Is there a way that it can be done more efficiently and by placing less financial burden on the airport and the construction process?

Finally, the overall umbrella statement is that we still call for the development of a regional airport system allowing people to fly from where they live and work. This means we all need to be promoting, within this region, the ability to use Ontario airport, the ability to support the development of the Inland Empire Air Force Bases that are going through conversion to commercial use, as well as the opportunities associated with Palmdale.

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There's a significant amount of work ahead. If we can reduce the number of gates, we can develop a binding, enforceable agreement between our two cities that will enable us to constrain the capacity of the airport to the existing 78 MAP. By limiting the capacity, we'll be in a position to develop a regional plan because the airlines will realize that their opportunities rest at other airports within the region.

Is a passenger cap of 78 million per year that is negotiated locally between two jurisdictions actually enforceable? Or, is airport utilization a federal preemption issue over which neither city has control?

Federal law prohibits the artificial capping of an airport's growth. We can't write an agreement with the city of Los Angeles that says we're not going to grow the airport beyond 78 MAP. However, the federal government cannot require a local jurisdiction to physically expand the number of gates it has beyond its existing facility. The analogy I use is this: If you go to a movie theatre with 350 seats, and there are 500 people standing in line for admission, how many people are going to get in? 350.

If the gate capacity based upon the physical number of gates would limit the capacity of the airport to 78 million passengers, that's what's going to occur.

Rumors abound that there have been discussions recently between L.A. Airport Commission President Ted Stein and yourself re reducing the number of planned gates at LAX. Coincidentally, an airport study you commissioned has concluded that without reducing gates at LAX, Alternative D will not actually limit LAX to 78 MAP. Could you comment on both of the above?

We have been negotiating with Mayor Hahn and his representatives for the last several months with respect to capacity. Ted Stein, being the chairman of the commission, along with Deputy Mayor Troy Edwards and well as the mayor himself, have been actively involved in those discussions. Professor Azid Kanfani (UC Berkeley), the consultant with whom we've been working, told us that this airport, through gate constraints, can be constrained to 78 MAP. Alternative D, as it is designed, without any change to the number of gates available, would take the airport beyond that number. What we have said, through Dr. Kanafani, is that the plan should be no more that 143 gates. Right now, we're working on a plan to allow the gate reduction to occur.

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