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Ruling Adds a Hurdle for LAX Proposal

Panel's finding forces the mayor to garner more council support to approve the airport modernization plan.

August 26, 2004|Jennifer Oldham | Times Staff Writer

An obscure county commission ruled Wednesday that the city's modernization proposal for Los Angeles International Airport violates a county land-use plan, a finding that will force Mayor James K. Hahn to get a two-thirds City Council vote to approve the blueprint.

After three hours of testimony and discussion, the five-member Airport Land Use Commission unanimously ruled that the mayor's $9-billion plan would create more noise and safety risks in nearby communities, making it inconsistent with a 1991 county land-use plan.

"It's clear that this airport needs modernization," said Commissioner Pat Modugno, but he said the commission's role was limited to deciding whether the LAX plan complied with the current land-use plan.

Hahn must now secure 10 votes, rather than the usual eight, on the 15-member council to override the commission's finding.

The commission's ruling also raises the possibility that the mayor may ultimately need to garner 12 council votes. The county counsel argues that airport-adjacent communities, or the county itself, could appeal a council override to the commission. If the commission approves the appeal, state law requires a four-fifths council vote to override, the county counsel contends.

A spokeswoman said the mayor was concerned that the commission based its decision on a 13-year-old document, but added that Hahn does not expect the vote to stop his LAX plan.

"He's always been committed and continues to be committed to working with Councilwoman Cindy Miscikowski and the council to address all their concerns and build the consensus necessary to move the plan forward," said Elizabeth Kaltman, a spokeswoman for the mayor's office.

At Wednesday's commission hearing, city officials argued that the airport violates the county's 1991 plan because new flight patterns were established in 1992, exposing many more residents to noise.

The officials said Hahn's plan would actually reduce the number of homes exposed to airport noise -- though more homes would be affected than in 1991.

Throughout the meeting, the panel's second on the plan in as many weeks, commissioners and city officials bemoaned the current land-use plan, saying its age made it impossible for the two sides to reach any understanding.

Caltrans, the state agency charged with overseeing county land-use plans, issued a grant to the county to rework its plan in the mid-1990s. The county drafted an updated plan in 1998, but never completed it. At both hearings, city and county officials pointed fingers, with each side claiming the other was responsible for ensuring that the county's land-use plan was amended to reflect current conditions around LAX.

"It's not our responsibility to sit with you and tell you at your shoulder that your plan is inadequate," said Carlyle Hall, an attorney who represents the city's airport agency, in testimony before the commission on Wednesday.

County planners said city officials did not approach them to discuss the age of the plan until last month. "The city could have come to our staff earlier since the master plan has been active for the last eight years," said Julie Moore, head of the county's community studies section.

Numerous residents and city officials from municipalities ringing Santa Monica Bay decried Hahn's LAX proposal and asked the commission to act as their advocate, saying the city repeatedly failed to address their concerns.

"The city of Los Angeles has forgotten that it has 87 neighboring cities and unincorporated areas that the airport impacts," Lomita Councilman Mark Waronek said.

Airlines, business groups and union representatives asked the commission to find the mayor's plan consistent with the county land-use plan, saying LAX needs to be remodeled or carriers will take flights and visitors elsewhere.

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