Venting years of frustration at an airport they say has grown too large to warrant expansion, hundreds spoke out Saturday against the proposed $12-billion Los Angeles International Airport master plan at three simultaneous public hearings.
The hearings come near the end of a 180-day comment period on the 12,000-page plan and accompanying environmental studies--five years and $65 million in the making.
Ground zero for expansion opponents was the Furama Hotel in Westchester. Prior to the hearings, about 50 residents toting placards reading "LAX Expansion No!" marched back and forth in front of the hotel. About 900 people signed in at the hearings, and 150 spoke at the microphone.
During the standing-room-only proceeding in the hotel, attendees waved their hands in the air--instead of clapping, which would eat away at the three minutes allotted each speaker--to signal agreement with speakers' comments.
"All of us are equally concerned about the proposed master plan," said Los Angeles City Council President Ruth Galanter. "But the most important document is the one on the wall."
Galanter was referring to a large plastic sign hanging on a hotel wall that featured a copy of an anti-expansion pledge signed by Mayor-elect James K. Hahn.
Expansion opponents suggested officials plan for a projected doubling of airline passengers in Southern California by 2025 by spreading traffic out among the region's dozen airports.
The expansion plan favored by Los Angeles World Airports, the city agency that operates LAX and three other airports, would maintain the number of LAX runways at four, but add new taxiways, a new terminal and passenger gates, and a ring road around the airport to disperse traffic.
The city agency says expansion is necessary to accommodate 89 million annual passengers expected at the airport by 2015. About 68 million travel through LAX today.
Some spoke at the hearings in favor of the plan, saying it will bring construction jobs to the area and help solve traffic and pollution woes that currently plague LAX--the world's third-busiest airport. Chicago's O'Hare International is the world's busiest, with Atlanta's Hartsfield International ranked second.
"Not having the capacity for our air-traffic needs will negatively affect our economy," said Richard N. Slawson, executive secretary of the Los Angeles/Orange Counties Building & Construction Trades Council.
Slawson marched with a handful of union members in support of the expansion plan before the hearing at the Furama Hotel, the location designated for residents who live in Westchester.
But the turnout at other hearing locations--at Hollywood Park in Inglewood and the Manhattan Beach Marriott--was fairly low. Hundreds of chairs sat empty at both locations for a large part of the day.
Attendees blamed the small crowd at Hollywood Park--otherwise jammed with people watching the Belmont Stakes and gambling--on inadequate advertising by the agency that operates LAX.
"I'm highly offended that there hasn't been adequate advertising--that's why there's no one here," said Inglewood City Councilwoman Judy Dunlap. "Everyone who lives near the airport should have been sent a notice."
In Manhattan Beach, El Segundo resident Stacey Palmer stepped up to the microphone late in the afternoon to speak in front of a few dozen people.
"They have been nonresponsive and nonaccountable with respect to the current operation," Palmer said. "If my voice sounds a little bit exercised, it's because I'm a little bit angry."
But for every person who stood to speak at the hearings, at least six others were too shy to get behind a microphone. Westchester resident Ginnie Friedland said she solicited comments on the master plan at her local YMCA and turned them in at the hearing.
The written comments will be added to thousands of responses already received by the Federal Aviation Administration and Los Angeles World Airports.
The agencies will collect comments until the public response period closes on July 25. After officials review and answer comments--expected to take from three to six months--the plan will travel to the Airport Commission.
The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors has threatened to sue the city agency and the FAA if they don't hold additional hearings.
On Saturday, some attendees were for the first time familiarizing themselves with the plan.
"My rooms are supposedly soundproof, but I often have to stop my lesson and wait for a plane to go overhead," said Deborah Black, a third-grade teacher at Kelso Elementary School in Inglewood.