WASHINGTON — A federal task force will create a draft plan for boosting capacity at Southern California's regional airports that Los Angeles officials can weigh against a $12-billion LAX expansion proposal, Transportation Secretary Norman Y. Mineta told legislators on Capitol Hill on Thursday.
Mineta and Federal Aviation Administration chief Jane Garvey met with local officials, led by Rep. Jane Harman (D-Redondo Beach), who are pushing for the benefits and burdens of airport growth to be spread throughout the region. They called the proposed modernization of LAX dysfunctional.
The lawmakers, including members of the Los Angeles City Council and the county Board of Supervisors and other local elected officials, said that although Mineta stopped short of formally endorsing the regionalization plan, he made the encouraging offer of a task force to help regional expansion efforts get off the ground.
Mineta "is going to help us put together the right planning organization," said Harman, who joined legislators in briefing reporters after the closed-door meeting. "He didn't pledge a dollar number of funds, but he pledged cooperation in a hands-on way."
The task force, to consist of Transportation Department and FAA officials, along with local government and regional airport representatives, will be charged with drafting a comprehensive regional transportation plan for Southern California that will be intermodal, including ground, rail and air transportation, Harman said.
"You can't do the airport piece without addressing the ground transportation piece," Harman said. "One of the huge problems with the gigantic proposed expansion of LAX is that there's no way to get there."
While Mineta did not discuss specific resources for the task force, Harman said there will "inevitably be a commitment of people and financial resources" from the department's discretionary budget.
Neither Mineta nor Garvey spoke with reporters after the meeting.
Local officials who attended the meeting continued to assail the LAX proposal as an unsafe and unpopular expansion of an already overcrowded facility. The plan would lengthen a runway and add gates, a terminal, a ring road around the airport and a "people mover".
"We have the third-busiest airport in the world on this compacted little space backed up to the ocean," said Supervisor Don Knabe.
"LAX is a catastrophe waiting to happen," said Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Huntington Beach). "It was never meant to be this huge airport with so many planes coming in. . . . We've got to make sure that we meet the overall transportation needs but handle the safety issue as well."
The decision about which path the city will pursue to accommodate a projected doubling of air passengers in the area by 2025 ultimately lies with the Los Angeles Airport Commission. Its seven members are expected to be named soon by new Mayor James K. Hahn, in an eagerly anticipated announcement that observers believe will reveal whether Hahn supports the LAX expansion, despite having signed a pledge to oppose it during his campaign.
Councilwoman Ruth Galanter, whose district encompasses an area near LAX, said she has no idea whom Hahn will name to the panel.
"I'm confident that [Hahn] is committed to regional expansion," Galanter said. "I'm waiting to see, as is everyone else, whether he's committed to stopping the expansion at LAX."
Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Los Angeles) suggested that there is significant political pressure on Hahn to side with the regional expansion coalition.
"Many of us conditioned our support for [him] on this issue," she said.
Harman said she hopes that the plan formulated by the new task force will develop into a "better alternative" for Southern California than the LAX master plan, which is being pushed by Los Angeles World Airports, the city airport agency. Still, she acknowledged that any future plans probably would need to include at least some expansion at LAX.
"I would envision that the next master plan . . . developed in this context will be widely popular and appropriate, and it will involve a piece of the whole regional airport plan," Harman said. "We're calling for rational limited growth [at LAX] in the context of a regional plan."