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Council Allows Delayed Design Work on LAX Plan

September 17, 2003|Jennifer Oldham | Times Staff Writer

The Los Angeles City Council decided Tuesday not to block fast-track design work on Mayor James K. Hahn's airport modernization plan after receiving assurances from the mayor that the work would not begin until early next year.

The effect of the decision is a compromise: Officials will not wait for formal approval of Hahn's $9-billion proposal to update Los Angeles International Airport, but the additional design work, at a cost of $1 million to $2 million a month, will be postponed for several months.

Councilwoman Cindy Miscikowski drafted a motion earlier this month to stop the city's Airport Commission from soliciting preliminary design proposals on Hahn's plan before it is reviewed by the council and the Federal Aviation Administration next fall. Six other council members signed Miscikowski's motion, which was viewed by many as an early referendum on Hahn's LAX plan.

Ferocious lobbying ensued. Airlines, labor representatives and others who support the mayor's plan attempted to convince City Council members that blocking design work now would cost the city more money in the long run.

"Delays in the start of construction will only add to the total cost of modernizing our international gateway airport," wrote Airport Commission President Ted Stein to council members.

"The cost increase could well be in the hundreds of millions of dollars and the delay in implementation of improvements could extend up to two years."

Airport Commissioner Miguel Contreras, who is the leader of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, said he contacted eight council members and urged them to vote against Miscikowski's motion, adding that 49,000 construction jobs depend on approval of Hahn's plan.

Miscikowski sent a letter to her colleagues asking why consultants who are now working on Hahn's plan -- and being paid about $1 million a month -- aren't being asked to do preliminary design work. She sent an e-mail to Westchester homeowner groups that encouraged them to speak at a public hearing on her motion last Friday; many obliged, saying that they supported slowing the planning work.

Consequently, when she introduced her motion Tuesday, Miscikowski said she hardly needed to explain what was at stake.

"You've no doubt received more calls, more information and more detail on this motion, I daresay, than you've seen in your time on the council -- and many of you have been here a long time," she said.

But many council members said they wouldn't support further delays in a 10-year effort to devise a politically palatable LAX plan. When it became clear that she wouldn't get enough votes, Miscikowski effectively withdrew her motion. She said she wasn't deterred by the loss.

"I think there was more harm done today in their fight over this motion than they gained in terms of victory," Miscikowski said of the Airport Commission and the mayor's office. "I think they heard today from a lot of my colleagues that they don't necessarily agree with the plan and have a lot of questions."

Several council members who signed Miscikowski's motion said they decided not to block the preliminary design work when Hahn offered the compromise.

"No money will be spent on the advanced planning consultant until the contract is negotiated, approved and executed," the mayor wrote to the council last week. He added that he will ask the Airport Commission not to award a contract until after March 1.

Councilman Antonio Villaraigosa said he changed his mind about Miscikowski's motion when the mayor offered to wait to solicit proposals. Other council members agreed, adding that stopping work is not an option when the city has logged about $116 million in planning costs since Mayor Richard Riordan first proposed reworking LAX 10 years ago.

"It's important that we move forward with this at this time," said Councilman Tony Cardenas. "Even though this has been a very contentious situation, people are dialoguing and trying to come up with a compromise."

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