On July 27, 2012, Los Angeles World Airports (“LAWA”) released the “Specific Plan Amendment Study Draft Environmental Impact Report” (“DEIR”), involving, among other things: (1) a realignment and extension of runways to the east on the North Airfield Complex, including a separation of the two north runways to permit their unimpeded use by the largest operating aircraft, A-380s and 747-800s (“Category VI”); (2) expansion and renovation of the terminals; and (3) associated movement and potential undergrounding of surrounding thoroughfares including Lincoln Boulevard. Sides are already forming over the proposed plan.
A lesson for all those who oppose the development of airports – be careful what you ask for, you might get it. Ten years ago the City of Irvine, California, won its epic battle over the conversion of El Toro Marine Corps Air Station (“El Toro”) to a new commercial airport for Orange County, California. The site is more than 3,000 acres in size, and was, at the time, surrounded by a 14,000 acre “no development” buffer zone, that the military had maintained to insulate itself from liability for noise and other impacts from aircraft operations at El Toro.
Despite the largest land use buffer around any airport in the nation, and the fact that the noisiest military aircraft then in existence, the F-14, F-16 and F-18 fighter jets, had been operating regularly and continuously out of El Toro for more than 50 years, when El Toro was marked for closure under the Base Reuse and Realignment Act, 10 U.S.C. § 2687, et seq., (“BRAC”), and conveyed to Orange County through a public benefit conveyance, a number of cities in South Orange County, including Irvine and Laguna Niguel, banded together to stop the conversion. Their alternative was a 3,600 acre “Great Park” on the El Toro site, to include sports facilities, entertainment venues, and wildlife preservation areas, and limited commercial and residential development on the periphery.
It was a very convincing story, and, ultimately, in 2003, after 10 years of political and legal battles and the expenditure of many millions of dollars on both sides, the effort prevailed in the passage of an Initiative, Measure W. The Initiative transferred land use planning authority from Orange County to the City of Irvine, for the purpose of developing the “Great Park.” The only problem is, another 10 years and mega-millions of dollars later, the Great Park remains an empty field hosting an occasional tent show or fair, and is on the verge of becoming what its skeptics expected all along.
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.
On May 18, 2010, the Los Angeles City Council approved, by a 12-3 margin, a Motion calling for a study of the requirements for, and costs and benefits of, returning Ontario International Airport (“ONT”) to the control of the City of Ontario, California.
Passenger traffic at Ontario has declined from 7.2 Million Air Passengers in…