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A Sparse Crowd at Hearing on LAX

November 04, 2001|JEFFREY L. RABIN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A public hearing on plans to expand Los Angeles International Airport took an unusual twist Saturday when a martial arts expert demonstrated how jujitsu, the Japanese art of self-defense, might be used to thwart terrorists intent on hijacking airliners.

Vince Cecere, a third-degree black belt and instructor of combat jujitsu, said there will be no need to expand LAX or Ontario, or to build a new airport in Orange County, unless public faith in the safety of air travel is restored and passengers return to the sky.

Cecere said training in martial arts for pilots and flight attendants offers one answer to concerns about safety.

As two associates pretended to attack him, the Studio City resident demonstrated a series of moves that might be used by flight crews to disable hijackers.

Officials from LAX and the Federal Aviation Administration said they had never before seen a martial arts demonstration during a hearing on an airport expansion project.

But so few people turned out for the hearing at Los Angeles High School that Cecere and his associates had two opportunities to demonstrate their skill.

It was just one more sign of how life has changed since Sept. 11.

Security has altered the dialogue about proposals to modernize LAX.

Plans crafted by former Mayor Richard Riordan to add gates and a terminal and increase the airport's capacity from 67 million to 89 million annual passengers are dead.

The new mayor, James K. Hahn, is concentrating instead on making the airport safer and more secure.

Hahn wants to move all passenger ticketing and baggage check-in facilities to a new location east of the existing terminals.

In an appearance Thursday before the Southern California Assn. of Governments, Hahn said the new facility near the San Diego Freeway would allow passengers to park, check their bags and pass through security checkpoints away from LAX's central terminal area.

Then they would board a high-speed people mover to the terminals.

Hahn stressed that the facility would eliminate the need for cars to park in the central terminal area, providing maximum protection from a car bomb threat.

Because the concept has yet to be translated into drawings, maps or a detailed description, the two dozen speakers who turned out had nothing too specific to comment on.

Roy Hefner, chairman of an LAX area advisory committee, said he is "very happy" that Hahn wants to drop plans for a new terminal and gates and a ring road surrounding the airport.

However, Hefner questioned the mayor's pledge to limit expansion of traffic at LAX to 78 million annual passengers, because the federal government, not the city, has the authority to regulate air traffic.

Longtime Inglewood resident Tessie Crowder voiced opposition to any expansion. Any growth in LAX, she said, would mean more noise, traffic and pollution for residents of nearby neighborhoods.

Crowder said later that aircraft now fly directly over her home, rattling windows and dropping jet fuel residue on her plants and outdoor furniture.

Her complaints were echoed by others, including Brian Weis, who lives under the flight path in Westchester.

Weis asked how the airport could be made safe when the Sepulveda tunnel already runs under the two main runways on the south side of the airport. He said that to extend one runway on the airport's north side across the same heavily traveled boulevard while talking about enhanced security is "blatantly ludicrous."

His wife, Ellen Weis, complained that expanding the airport would make LAX an even bigger target for terrorists.

And their 5-year-old son, Christopher, said he does not want airport officials to buy their house. "I don't want to move from my friends," he said.

Westchester resident Ann Clark said expansion of the airport would affect low-income neighborhoods near LAX and under the flight path of approaching planes.

"Do you think we would be having this discussion if the airport abutted Bel-Air or Beverly Hills?" she asked.

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