Yet another project at Los Angeles International Airport (“LAX”) has skated under the requirements of the California Environmental Quality Act (“CEQA”). The project, the “American Airlines Commuter Facility Improvement Project,” allegedly constitutes a mere replacement of the facilities once occupied by United Airlines. Not exactly. The project actually includes, but is not limited to: (1) more than doubling the size of the passenger terminal/administration building to add passenger accommodations and office space; (2) addition of an almost 10,000 square foot building for baggage handling, office space and storage; and (3) replacement of a remote gate, accessed by foot or bus, with an enclosed contact gate such as those which are used inside the main terminals.
Despite the expansionary nature of the project, Los Angeles World Airports (“LAWA”), the Department of the owner, City of Los Angeles, responsible for operating LAX does not give so much as a passing nod to compliance with CEQA. If the project could simply be described as “new lease with American Airlines,” as a recent “Transmittal for Review of LAX Tenant Improvement Project” would have the public believe, the omission to conduct environmental review might be justified by a categorical exclusion from CEQA, 14 Cal. Code Regs. section 15301. That exclusion, however, does not apply here. The project, far from being “negligible” in scope, clearly constitutes a massive expansion of the previous passenger hold room and other passenger serving facilities.
This substantial enlargement of the passenger hold room and other accommodations has both capacity enhancing and cumulative impacts. In fact, its obvious purpose is to allow the accommodation of double the number of American Eagle passengers than could have been handled in the previous facility.
Finally, to add injury to insult, the approval of the project without environmental review also skirts around the settlement in City of El Segundo, et al. v. City of Los Angeles, et al., Riverside County Superior Court Case No. RIC426822. The gravamen of that settlement was limitation on capacity defined by number of passengers. Similarly, a “regionalization” provision was included and agreed to for the express purpose of working toward diversion of passengers to other airports. Increasing the size of the American Airlines Commuter Facility clearly increases “capacity” and, thus, is far from the negligible impact properly excused by a categorical exclusion.
In short, LAWA appears to be “piecemealing” the full scope of the redevelopment of LAX. If so, LAWA is in clear contravention of both California law and its contractual obligation under the Settlement Agreement with surrounding communities.