June 23, 2004 - From the February, 2001 issue

LAX Capitulates on Additional Runway... Is the Draft Master Plan Now a Placebo?

Coming to terms with an LAX Master Plan that all parties can agree on has proven to be more difficult and time-consuming than anyone would have dreamed when the effort began five years ago. What share of the region's projected growth in cargo and air passenger demand should Los Angeles International accommodate? Should the plan include additional runways? How can we reap the economic rewards of expansion while curbing noise, traffic, air pollution and other negative impacts? Can LAX expansion be done in the absence of a regional plan? MIR was pleased to speak recently with Carlyle W. Hall, Jr., Outside Legal Counsel for LAWA since 1996, about these and other questions-as well as why LAWA staff recommended the "No Additional Runway" alternative when it released the Draft Master Plan last month.

Carlyle Hall

Carlyle, LAWA has just released the environmental documents for the LAX Master Plan. Included was the staff's recommended alternative of "No Additional Runway." The draft now goes to the Board of Airport Commissioners, the L.A. City Planning Commission and the City Council for review and action. The planning process in general has been a very drawn-out process taking far longer than anticipated when the effort first began. What does the current timeline look like, and what are the biggest obstacles that face the airport in pursuing the "No Additional Runway" alternative?

The timeline calls for a 180-day period of review, which started in mid-January and will continue through mid-July. Following that, there will be several months set aside to develop responses to the public comments and formulate the final environmental impact report. Then, probably some time in the latter half of 2002, it will go into the City's normal process for approving entitlements. Because the LAX Master Plan will at some point become part of the City's General Plan, the airport needs approval not only from its Airport Board, but also the City Planning Commission and the City Council. The Master Plan will be one of the community plans the City uses to control land-use within its borders.

In terms of obstacles, there are several. There are the political obstacles of needing to obtain eight votes on the City Council and the approval of the Mayor. Because we don't know who the next Council and Mayor will be, speculating on what those votes are likely to be is a little premature.

The next obstacle is potential litigation. The document is based on both state and federal law. The EIR is governed by CEQA; the EIS governed by NEPA. And there are a variety of other statutes that come into play, including the Clean Air Act.

Carlyle, give our readers a better understanding of why the staff at the airport chose the "No Additional Runway" alternative and why it's better than the others. What are its main elements?

The alternatives have gone through a lot of development. Dozens of options have been looked at over the course of the planning process, three of which were carried through to this environmental document. There were four alternatives originally presented in July 1997 with the notice of preparation, but three of these were later dropped due to public input, environmental impact and/or legal difficulties.

What we ended up with were the three build options and the "No Project" alternative. Two of the build options included adding a runway-one to the north and one on the southern side of the present central terminal area, while the "No Project" alternative would basically continue operations under the current 1981 airport plan.

The reason the "No Additional Runway - Alternative C" is staff-preferred is that it presents substantially less environmental impact than the two "add-a-runway" options, while achieving nearly equal economic benefits for the City and region. As for the "No Project" alternative, it not only offers little in the way of economic benefit, but also actually poses its own very substantial environment impacts.

"Doing nothing" really isn't an option. The airport does not have control over the number of passengers that arrive on airplanes. America's air space has basically been federalized, and under federal deregulation, the airlines can generally schedule whatever size airplanes carrying whatever number of passengers they want into LAX and other airports in the nation. As a result, airports generally must respond to the airlines' service demands. They can't just put up a sign at the end of the runway saying, No more passengers. No more airline landings. It's December 1, and we've reached our limit for the year. Air traffic will be suspended throughout the holidays and will resume again on January 1. That simply cannot be done.

Right now, LAX accommodates 65 million annual passengers (MAP), and even under a "No Project" alternative, we project we'll go to 79 MAP in the next 15 years. Simply "doing nothing" will not make that projected increase in passengers disappear.

That's a great segue. Of particular significance in the documents is the fact that the plan assumes the LAX share of regional passenger service will drop from 75% to less than 60%, as other airports are predicted to take on increased flight loads. Currently, there are several airport expansion/conversions being debated throughout the region-El Toro, Burbank, Ontario, Palmdale, San Diego and others-all with varying levels of optimism and growth constraints. So, Carlyle, what's the reality of LAX's assumption?

The assumption that LAX's market share will continue to drop is very real. It's been dropping for the past several decades, and that decline will likely continue. Whereas LAX used to be the only game in town, it's now one of a number of regional airports that serve large numbers of people and process large amounts of cargo.

This is a very diverse and spread-out region. As outlying areas continue to add more and more residents, it's inevitable they will also increase their share of regional passenger and cargo load. There's just no way to reverse that trend, nor does Los Angeles World Airports want to reverse that trend.

That being said, LAX is certainly a key airport in the regional system-and always will be-because there are certain things LAX can do that the others cannot.

Even if El Toro and Burbank don't assume any additional responsibility, you believe that 60% figure is fairly accurate?

It's impossible to see into the future to know what the exact percentages will be, but one thing is definitely clear: LAX's share of the overall regional traffic flow will continue to decline. And with the rate of growth in places like the Inland Empire, that decline is likely to be quite substantial.

Carlyle, MIR last interviewed you in September of 1999. When asked to respond to the assertion that LAX expansion ignores regional growth patterns, you said, "The LAX expansion is actually based on [regional growth patterns]. An overwhelmingly large percentage of the projected growth-meaning the airlines, air-flying public and cargo operators-want to be near LAX because that's where the main population base and infrastructure is. So LAX is a key component, particularly with respect to any growth in international operations." Is this picture still the same?

Yes, and the "No Additional Runway" alternative, which projects 89 MAP, is designed to meet that state of affairs.

MIR interviewed UCSD Professor Steven Erie last month. In regard to regional airport planning, he said, "The problem with LAX is that it's historically done almost all of heavy lifting in terms of international passenger and cargo load. What L.A. needs to do is get Orange County and the Inland Empire-who have basically been free riders-to the table. But at this point, the City's governance structure does not encourage that." Carlyle, how can the City of L.A. get the other players in the region to take on a greater share? Is there any leverage?


Many people-including the airlines, the FAA, and many of the opponents of LAX expansion-would like to see the region's overall airport capacity grow, focusing on increasing capacity at all existing and proposed facilities, not just LAX. While I'm obviously not suggesting LAWA ally itself with LAX Master Plan opponents, I don't think the sentiment to increase the capacity of the outlying airports is inconsistent with LAWA's goal. In fact, that's LAWA's desire: to bring all the players together to increase overall regional capacity.

The LA Times recently ran an article on El Segundo Mayor Mike Gordon, who is leading the charge-which now includes about 100 cities, counties, civic agencies and school districts, from Manhattan Beach to Riverside and beyond-against LAX expansion. In that article, Mayor Gordon claims, "There is a better and cheaper and faster way to accommodate the air travel and cargo needs of the millions of new residents expected in the Inland Empire and other fast growing places in the region. There is a way to share the jobs and other economic benefits as well as burdens of life near an airport." Carlyle, how does LAX respond effectively to the Mayor's arguments?

We completely agree that the needs of the Inland Empire, Orange County and all the other parts of Southern California would certainly be better met if there were greater capacity in the outlying areas. But that does not diminish at all the overwhelming need for LAX to meet the demand peculiar to it.

The air service demands on LAX-of the airline industry, the passengers, the cargo shippers-are extremely high. LAX is trying to meet those demands by forming a comprehensive Master Plan that mitigates potential impacts. If LAWA does nothing, those ever-increasing demands will still continue at LAX; we just won't have the tools to deal with them.

Carlyle, after months of discussion, LAWA has signed an agreement with the City of Inglewood to improve air quality, reduce aircraft noise, and develop jobs. Can you flesh out the elements of this agreement and what the expected impacts are?

The Inglewood Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) focuses on mitigating a number of impacts that the airport has on its eastern neighbor, the City of Inglewood, principally noise, air quality, and traffic. Inglewood is the city most impacted by LAX operations because incoming planes fly directly over it before they land. (Fortunately, when they take off, they do so over the ocean.)

To deal with noise pollution, the MOU does several things. One, it indefinitely suspends LAWA's requirement for avigation easements at LAX as a condition to providing noise insulation benefits in Inglewood. People in the Inglewood community have complained that this condition is unfair and inappropriate, so LAX has responded by suspending that requirement in Inglewood on an indefinite basis. Two, the airport is putting together a $10 million fund for a pilot project to look at ways to insulate residential areas currently ineligible for sound-proofing-for example, homes that do not meet building code. And three, through a FAA-required noise study, LAWA will be examining how it can better enforce its nighttime over-the-ocean policies. At night, takeoffs and landings are supposed to occur over the ocean and not over the City of Inglewood. But from time to time, the airlines do not comply. Unfortunately, LAWA does not have the unilateral ability to deal with that problem, so we need the FAA to cooperate. And this study will seek to develop better mechanisms-for example, fines on airlines-to enforce that policy.

In regard to ground traffic, there is another $10 million fund to extend the Century Blvd. improvements (which presently go almost to the Inglewood border) up to Crenshaw Boulevard, which would mean potentially large economic benefits for the businesses in that area, while also mitigating traffic problems.

It's important to point out that this MOU depends on mutual cooperation. If one party were to sue the other party, for example, the MOU could be terminated. But looking down the road, we're hopeful that this agreement will serve as a model framework for ongoing cooperation on a host of issues-as opposed to litigation.

Does it matter who the next Mayor is? What do you hope to hear from candidates to ensure this long-term project will receive the focus it needs?

What I hope to hear from all the Mayoral candidates is that LAX is and always will be a very key part of the economy and the convenience of the citizens of L.A. At the same time, it's important that whoever becomes Mayor does his or her best to mitigate LAX's environmental and community impacts to the greatest extent feasible. That's a very important-and challenging-balance to strike.

Carlyle, this increase in demand at the airport-of incoming passengers-requires there be some land-side plan to deal with congestion. What does the Master Plan hold in the way of dealing with the congestion that will result from increased utilization of LAX?

There are many key ground transportation components. First and foremost is to directly connect the airport with the 405 and the Century Freeways so that people don't have to exit the freeway and take surface streets. LAX is the only large airport in the country where you have to use surface streets to reach it, and that has caused many traffic problems in the nearby communities, whether El Segundo, Inglewood or Westchester.

Secondly, the Plan includes a "ring road" around the airport. By it, passengers would be able to access a new western terminal not in the existing central terminal area, alleviating a lot of the current congestion in terms of space at the curb, moving vehicle traffic, and insufficient parking.

LAWA will also be developing more fly-aways or remote terminals. Van Nuys presently has a very successful remote terminal where commuters and LAX employees can park their cars relatively inexpensively and take a bus to the airport. That not only takes tremendous demand off LAX parking lots and facilities, but also takes cars off the freeways and provides passenger convenience. To the extent that LAWA can do that at key locations throughout the region, such as Union Station, it can achieve the same goals. In fact, LAWA can do it even better by using clean fuel buses and providing baggage check-in facilities and boarding-pass pick-up.

Lastly, Carlyle, how will we judge the success of this effort a year from now?

A year from now, the public will have had a chance to comment on all the Master Plan alternatives and the environmental analysis. At that point, LAWA should have all the comments analyzed-and the input fully integrated into the project. A final environmental impact report, ready to be delivered to the decision-makers, would soon follow.


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