Voters in financially strapped Los Angeles will decide Tuesday whether the city should turn to a valuable asset, its airports, for cash that could ward off cuts in police, firefighting and other services.
Voters also will be asked to decide how to pay for a massive reconstruction of the city's sewer system.
Propositions K and L are arcane financial matters in comparison with many of the issues on the Nov. 3 ballot, but backers say they are critical in maintaining basic services in Los Angeles.
Proposition K would amend the City Charter in a first step toward putting airport funds into the city's treasury, where the money could be used to hire more police officers and firefighters. Changes in federal law would also be needed to permit the transfer of funds to the city.
Proponents describe the measure as a logical way for residents to benefit from the airport's surplus, which was more than $25 million last year and is projected to grow to as much as $70 million a year after the completion of talks to increase landing fees for airlines.
Opponents, led by the airline industry, say that Proposition K will drive up the price of everything from airline tickets to airport food concessions and will diminish maintenance and improvements at four city-owned airports--Los Angeles International, Palmdale, Ontario and Van Nuys.
City Councilwoman Ruth Galanter, who proposed the measure, said the airlines are trying to distract voters from the primary issue--that airports are public facilities and the public should decide how to spend the revenue.
"These are our airports. It's our money. And we clearly have a dire need for this money to maintain basic city services," Galanter said. "It seems only logical to take down the barrier between the money and the people of Los Angeles."
Since World War II, the City Charter has required that all funds raised at the city-owned airports be used there for maintenance and operations. Federal laws also restrict the use of the money, to assure the proper operation of the nation's airfields.
Galanter said those restrictions were approved at a time when the financial success of LAX and other airports was in question. With the airports' stability assured, the city should now be able to benefit from its investment, Galanter said.
If the measure is approved, the city will press negotiations with the Federal Aviation Administration and Congress to seek changes in federal law so that airport money can be used for purposes other than aviation.
Galanter has introduced a proposal in the City Council that would restrict use of the surplus to pay for police, firefighters and paramedics. She has projected that the city would be able to hire 800 police officers, 108 paramedics and 60 firefighters.
The councilwoman, who represents the LAX area, pledges that City Hall officials will carefully look after one of the city's few money-making ventures. She noted that Proposition K includes provisions to preserve some of the surplus for use at the airports.
"There is not anyone on the City Council who is likely to interfere with the airport being a tremendous money-making asset," Galanter said. "We have no reason to kill the golden goose."
But airline officials had spent $256,000 as of Friday to defeat the measure, six times the budget for the Yes on K campaign.
Officials at the Air Transport Assn., an industry trade group, said that Proposition K will tempt city officials to interfere with airport operations to try to increase the city's bounty.
"The airport is the one thing in that city that works," said Roger Cohen, vice president for government affairs with the Washington-based Air Transport Assn. "It has been run like a business and at no taxpayer expense. Proposition K represents the final blow in politicization of the airport. It's a City Hall takeover."
Cohen argues that city officials would use their power to review Airport Commission decisions to increase terminal rents, concession fees and airline landing charges to bolster the city treasury. Airport businesses would, in turn, pass on their costs to consumers, Cohen said.
It is "political flimflammery" for city officials to suggest that consumers will not pay more, he said.
Proposition L would raise $1.5 billion through a bond issuance for improvements in the sewer system, continuing the city's effort to abide by a 1987 court agreement to clean up effluent dumped into Santa Monica Bay.
Similar measures were approved by voters twice before, in 1987 and 1988, and the current proposal is backed by a wide range of environmental and community organizations, including Heal the Bay and the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce.
Councilman Ernani Bernardi has led opposition to the measure, saying homeowners should pay for the improvements as they are made, rather than over the 30-year life of the bonds.
The average homeowner would pay as much as $17 more a month in the near future to make the improvements immediately, as Bernardi has proposed, according to an analysis by the city administrative officer.
Proposition L would cost more in the long run--with the average homeowner paying an additional $4 to $9 in sewer user charges a month over the 30-year life of the bonds.