The Los Angeles Times reports that, while economic conditions are slowly improving throughout most of the nation, including most of California, California’s Inland Empire, comprised of Riverside and San Bernardino Counties is not so fortunate. The Times reports that the volume of home sales in San Bernardino County dropped 18.3% from last June, and in Riverside County 14.7%. Similarly, jobs fell throughout the Inland Empire in sectors such as leisure and hospitality (minus 3,200 jobs in June) and educational and health services (minus 1,300 positions in June). Finally, the region lost 3,900 construction jobs over the year, and more than 75,000 since the peak of construction in June, 2006.

As part of the solution to this ongoing problem, the City of Ontario and County of San Bernardino have joined together to negotiate a return of Ontario International Airport (“ONT”), operated by the City of Los Angeles through its Airport Department, L.A. World Airports (“LAWA”) since 1967, to local control. ONT has, consistent with the condition of the local economy, seen an approximate 30% decrease in operations since 2007.

Local control would be exercised through a joint powers agency comprised of the City of Ontario and San Bernardino County. The benefits of such an arrangement are manifest: (1) local control could eventually escape the onerous employee contractual requirements which burden Los Angeles and add substantially to airline costs; (2) local control could avoid the inherent conflict of interest which has inhibited LAWA from allowing airlines to divert to ONT rather than concentrating service at LAX, with consequent financial benefits to LAX and disbenefits to ONT in the form of lost landing, concession and other fees; (3) local control takes into account local needs, preferences and conditions, with historically greater success in attracting airline incumbents and passengers and stimulating airport development; and (4) with successful airport development, theory and practice amply demonstrate, comes economic development for the entire region.

Despite ONT’s downward spiral, the transfer of ONT to local control, and its consequent successful development, are opposed by the City of Los Angeles as an attempt to hijack a “valuable asset.” The irony is that what could have been a valuable asset has been debased under Los Angeles’ control. An answer to the woes of the region in general, and ONT in particular is clear – return ONT to local control where it will be understood and exploited to its full potential as a “valuable asset,” not just to Los Angeles alone, but to the entire Southern California region.