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VALLEY PERSPECTIVE

Airport Plan Is a Blueprint for Expansion

April 08, 2001|GERALD A. SILVER and MYRNA L. SILVER | Gerald A. Silver is president of Homeowners of Encino. Myrna L. Silver is a writer

The Van Nuys Airport master plan will go before the north Valley and south Valley area planning commissions shortly. Given the reaction at other recent hearings, expect these to be well-attended by residents fed up with airport noise.

The Van Nuys Airport master plan should be a comprehensive long-term document that encourages the orderly development of airport land, protects the environment and encourages land-use compatibility between the airport and surrounding community. The so-called compromise alternative promoted by the airport does not fulfill these goals.

Of the major airports in this area, Van Nuys has the least effective plan for development. It is in the heart of a severely noise-impacted residential community and already operates under a variance that allows it to exceed state-mandated noise limits.

According to the airport, there are 1,454 homes and apartments, 3,510 residents and 104.6 acres of land in the most severely noise-impacted area. In light of this land-use incompatibility, no expansion of jet or helicopter operations, aircraft tie-downs or aviation acreage should be permitted by the master plan.

For several decades, homeowners asked Los Angeles World Airports to prepare a master plan that would limit the airport's expansion and end the constant racket. Nine years have elapsed since the master plan process began and more than $1.5 million has been spent. Little or nothing has been accomplished.

Los Angeles World Airports developed the long-range compromise master plan it is trying to get approved. Unfortunately, the plan is a blueprint for major airport expansion and does not have community support. For residents, the only compromise in it is in their quality of life.

Among the plan's provisions is a proposed 54.2% increase in jets based at the airport and a 56.8% increase in helicopters. Yet the airport stubbornly refuses to call this an expansion because it is not buying up more land.

To the dismay of residents, much of the available undeveloped 113 acres of airport property would be dedicated to aviation uses, including jet charters, helicopter sightseeing, commercial air taxis and unlimited media helicopter operations.

It is essential that the plan throttle back airport operations, not allow them to expand or even remain at present levels. The plan should establish limits on noise, air traffic handling capability, hangar space and helicopter and corporate jet tie-downs. It should include a timetable for reducing operations to make the airport safer and quieter. This absence is a fatal flaw in the compromise plan.

The master plan was developed with inadequate public notice and too little community input. Members of the public were excluded from meetings, not given notices and excluded from participation in developmental discussions of new alternatives. The compromise was cobbled together after the draft environmental impact report was completed and therefore lacks proper environmental clearance.

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The compromise plan will impact the entire San Fernando Valley, the Santa Monica Mountains, the Cahuenga Pass and other parts of Los Angeles, yet Los Angeles World Airports has failed to draw support for the plan from these communities.

Rather than support the compromise, a coalition of residents and key elected officials favors the Aviation Acreage at Decreased Intensity Alternative, one of 12 land-use alternatives developed in the draft EIR.

This alternative is supported by community groups in Encino, Tarzana, Woodland Hills, Van Nuys, Sherman Oaks, Studio City, the Cahuenga Pass and the Santa Monica Mountains.

Any new projects built on airport property should be retail or perhaps commercial or light industrial, most of which would serve the needs of local residents. Some have recommended that real estate developers be brought into the process to find alternative uses for undeveloped property. They could analyze all available acreage, make economic proposals based on the free market and offer plans for development.

But before anything is approved, residents living near the airport should be involved in the decision-making process.

Land use should be based on fair and open competition for the site. Selection criteria should include consideration of benefits to residents, impacts on those residing nearby and the greatest tax return to the city, with full consideration of environmental and infrastructure impacts.

The City Council and the Los Angeles Airport Commission should reject the compromise alternative because it is not supported by residents, and instead adopt the decreased intensity alternative.

The decreased intensity alternative would go a long way toward securing the continued existence of a viable airport while reducing noise and improving the airport's compatibility with its neighbors.

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