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"Council Members Want Long Beach Airport Guiding Principles"
Thursday, October 7, 2004
Council Members Want Airport Guiding Principles
By Harry Saltzgaver
The Grunion Gazette, Long Beach (CA)
After ducking and dodging for more than a year, City Council members - at
least some of them - appear ready to start making decisions about what the
Long Beach Airport should be in the future.
Tuesday night, the six members of the council present agreed to ask its own
Transportation and Infrastructure Committee to develop a set of "guiding
principles" for marketing of and users' responsibilities at the airport.
Those guiding principles, once approved by the entire council, likely would
be used to frame the discussion about improvements at the airport terminal -
a debate expected in early November, when recommendations from the Airport
Advisory Commission come before the council.
"The guiding principles utilized in the recommended improvements stated that
they were 'only meant to apply to terminal facility sizing'," Eighth
District Councilwoman Rae Gabelich said. "However, there are many larger
city-related issues that must be considered while the process takes place on
The agenda item was brought forward by the three council members who have
publicly said they are opposed to airport "expansion" - Fourth District
Councilman Patrick O'Donnell, Seventh District Councilwoman Tonia Reyes
Uranga and Gabelich. Uranga and Gabelich also make up two-thirds of the
Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. Fifth District Councilwoman and
Vice Mayor Jackie Kell is the third committee member.
"What I hope to achieve with this is to create a tool that will be very easy
to understand, a guideline of what the council wants to see (in an
Environmental Impact Report) from the economic impact to the environmental
impact," said Gabelich, who headed the HUSHII anti-airport movement before
being elected to the City Council this year. "I've already discovered that
if an issue does not impact your district directly, it has a tendency to be
overlooked. This won't be anything more than putting the facts together as a
tool for our fellow council members."
Last October, the City Council was asked to approve the scope of airport
terminal improvements so an EIR study could begin. When residents protested,
claiming that the size of the terminal work would attract more airlines and
therefore more flights and noise, the council decided to ask the Airport
Advisory Commission to make recommendations.
That commission voted 6-3 last month to accept staff recommendations of up
to 90,000 square feet of improvements, under the condition that two smaller
alternatives also be studied. Earlier this month, the commission also said
that a full health study should be part of the EIR.
Those recommendations are expected to go before the council in late October
or early November, according to airport spokesperson Sharon Diggs-Jackson.
Once the council sets the size of the proposed project, the process of EIR
preparation and public meetings will begin again. A Notice of Preparation
could be ready by January, Diggs-Jackson said, with the EIR process likely
lasting through all of 2005.
Gabelich and O'Donnell already have said they would not support the staff
proposal. Gabelich said she agrees that the airport needs a "facelift" but
that she saw no need to quadruple the size of the terminal. O'Donnell, in an
opinion piece Sunday in the Long Beach Press-Telegram, called the Airport
Advisory Commission's recommendation "irresponsible," and said he wanted to
see a smaller alternative that was more financially responsible.
"Yes, I have made up my mind that 90,000 square feet isn't responsible,"
O'Donnell said before Tuesday's meeting. "I'm still open to conversation,
but I fail to understand why what was 25,000 square feet when it was first
proposed now has to be 90,000 square feet.
"It is my job to number one, protect the city's air ordinance, and number
two, be financially responsible. This is all going to be on the public's
back. You have to remember, any airline can pull out in 30 days. Then we'll
be left holding the bag."
Coincidentally, American Airlines announced late Tuesday it would stop
flights between Long Beach and Washington, D.C., on Nov. 1. Those two slots
a day now return to the city. JetBlue Airlines has first right of refusal on
those slots, but officials there have not said whether they would add
City officials have been trying to get terminal improvements approved for
more than two years, since JetBlue made Long Beach its West Coast hub. The
airport now sees 41 flights of commercial jets each day, the maximum allowed
under a court-approved noise ordinance.
About 3 million passengers will use the airport this year, and officials say
the terminal was built for a maximum of just more than 1 million. Temporary
passenger lounges and baggage facilities are in use, and the city is leasing
off-site parking for airport passengers from Boeing.
Robert Luskin, the Airport Advisory Commissioner who made the motion to
endorse the staff recommendation, said that he was unhappy with the
characterization of the commission's action as irresponsible. He noted that
the commission conducted 12 public meetings on the plans and studied reams
"What doesn't seem to be getting across," Luskin said, "is that our
attorneys explained that terminal improvements were not a threat to our
noise ordinance. Not doing anything, not accommodating the passengers
legally allowed, now that's something that will threaten the ordinance."
Later in the evening Tuesday, the council postponed a decision whether to
send a contract out for bid to build a more permanent canopy over the north
baggage area. Uranga said she wanted more information.
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