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City Panel Delays Vote on LAX Plan

September 30, 2004|Jennifer Oldham | Times Staff Writer

A City Council committee deferred a vote Wednesday on a modernization plan for Los Angeles International Airport, asking the city attorney and the airport agency to answer numerous questions about legal and security issues.

The Planning and Land Use Committee's decision to postpone action for a week is a sign of how difficult it may be for the council to follow an ambitious schedule that aims for a final vote on Mayor James K. Hahn's $9-billion plan by Dec. 14.

"I understand that bureaucrats have been working on this for years," Councilman Jack Weiss said. "But this just formally arrived at the council at 2:15 p.m. today."

The mayor's aides said they were optimistic the council could stick to the timetable.

"I'm encouraged that they came up with a list of questions and gave [the city's airport agency] a tight timetable to turn them around," said Tim McOsker, Hahn's chief of staff. "This keeps us on schedule."

Airport officials have spent 14 years and $130 million drafting a politically palatable blueprint to remodel the world's fifth-busiest airport. LAX last received a makeover before the 1984 Olympics.

To win support for his plan from airlines, businesses and elected officials, Hahn struck a deal with Councilwoman Cindy Miscikowski that postpones the most controversial elements of his plan to a second phase.

On Wednesday, the committee asked the city attorney to discuss on Oct. 6 whether the council could legally eliminate the most disliked project in Hahn's plan -- a check-in center near the San Diego Freeway.

Airport officials have said the center must remain part of the required environmental studies because it's needed to absorb increased traffic expected to choke surface streets near the airport by 2015. Under Miscikowski's compromise, however, the center might not be built if it does not meet more rigorous criteria.

Weiss, who has often spoken out about security at LAX, suggested the council use approval of Hahn's LAX plan as "leverage" to persuade the airlines to add more personnel so passengers would pass more quickly through lines at ticket counters.

"We have a golden opportunity to use this as leverage because they're coming in and asking for our votes," he said.

Adding more ticket agents and screeners to process travelers faster through lines at ticket counters and security checkpoints was the leading recommendation of a Rand Corp. report released last week. Such lines make a "tempting target for terrorists," researchers found.

Weiss asked airport officials to report back on how they plan to address Rand's recommendations. The airport's interim executive director, Kim Day, said the agency is running computer simulations to determine how many more ticket agents and screeners would be needed.

Before its 90-minute debate on Hahn's plan, the planning committee heard several hours of testimony from about three dozen speakers.

Airlines, business groups and labor leaders spoke in favor of Miscikowski's plan, saying it is crucial to preserve the airport's role as one of the region's leading economic engines.

"This is the No. 1 priority for every working man and working woman in Los Angeles County and we will look to you to move this project forward," testified Miguel Contreras, an airport commissioner and head of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor.

Residents from communities ringing the airport spoke against the plan, saying it would not restrain growth at LAX. "We don't want LAX to expand into our frontyard, sideyard and backyard," said Robert Acherman, a Westchester resident.

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