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LOS ANGELES ELECTIONS

Candidates Disagree on Future of L.A. Airport

Hahn pushed the City Council to OK his plan to modernize LAX. Villaraigosa voted against it but has not detailed his own vision.

May 03, 2005|Jennifer Oldham | Times Staff Writer

The two candidates for Los Angeles mayor, who agree broadly on many issues, disagree strenuously about one: how to fix the city's aging and congested airport.

Mayor James K. Hahn pushed the City Council to approve his $11-billion modernization plan for Los Angeles International Airport in December.

His opponent, Antonio Villaraigosa, was one of three council members to vote against the controversial plan, although he never has detailed his own vision of what to do with the 76-year-old airport.

The issue has played a below-the-radar role in the campaign, but could have a major impact on whether Hahn is able to win a second term.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Friday May 06, 2005 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 News Desk 13 inches; 36 words Type of Material: Correction
Precinct map -- A map in Tuesday's California section showing March mayoral election results in precincts near Los Angeles International Airport gave the wrong locations for Marina del Rey and LAX. The corrected map appears above.

Opposition to the mayor's plan remains intense in airport-area communities, including Westchester and Playa del Rey, and many residents say Villaraigosa's vote against it is enough to win their support. The councilman has landed endorsements from influential politicians representing the airport area.

A significant bloc of voters resides in those older communities, where the city of Los Angeles hugs the northern boundary of the airport. The largely residential region, home to many retirees, is a Republican stronghold that has historically favored candidates who are more conservative on social issues.

In the 2001 mayoral runoff, 57% in the area voted for Hahn and 41% for Villaraigosa. But in March, Villaraigosa pulled ahead, receiving 29% of the vote, with former Assembly Speaker Bob Hertzberg getting 25% and Hahn coming in third with 24%.

Villaraigosa said in an interview that he would not kill Hahn's plan if he became mayor, explaining that he supports what are known as the "green-light" projects, which are slated for the first phase of construction. Those include moving the airport's southernmost runway 55 feet closer to El Segundo, and building a consolidated rental car center in Lot C and a transit hub near the Century Freeway.

But he opposes the so-called "yellow-light" projects, including a controversial check-in facility at Manchester Square, a Westchester neighborhood near the San Diego Freeway, and tearing down Terminals 1, 2 and 3.

Under Hahn's plan, those projects would be built in a second phase and subject to further environmental, security and traffic analyses. Villaraigosa said he intends to "permanently put them on the proverbial shelf."

The councilman's reticence to release his own LAX plan, however, has left some airport-area residents wary of what he would do at the airport if he won the May 17 runoff.

"I hear people talking about being in favor of Villaraigosa because he's made this promise to stop airport expansion," said Geoff Maleman, who lives in Westchester. "But in some ways, I think it's an uninformed position because no one knows where Antonio stands on the airport."

Some legal experts contend that the extensive environmental studies for Hahn's plan rely on the check-in center to absorb additional traffic and to make the air-quality analysis work.

If the check-in center were shelved, as Villaraigosa wants, the city could be forced to redo those studies -- a process that could take up to two years.

"If he just goes ahead with the green-light projects and does away with the yellow-light projects, then in essence he doesn't have a project and has to start over," said Barbara Lichman, an attorney representing Los Angeles County, which together with Inglewood and Culver City sued the city of Los Angeles to stop the long-awaited airport overhaul.

In addition, the yellow-light projects include a plan to decrease the number of gates where airplanes park from 163 to 153, which is how Hahn intends to hold growth at LAX to 78.9 million annual passengers.

Villaraigosa takes issue with the contention that doing away with the controversial check-in center would cause the plan's 30,000-page environmental analysis to unravel.

"I think there's a disagreement among the lawyers about how to proceed," he said. "I don't frankly trust that this administration has given us the straight answers on that issue."

The two-phase approach was devised by Councilwoman Cindy Miscikowski, who represents the airport area and is a staunch supporter of the mayor. She says that her decision to support him was based in part on his willingness to listen to her ideas about how to alter his airport plan.

Villaraigosa said, however, that he has received endorsements from Reps. Maxine Waters (D-Los Angeles) and Jane Harman (D-Venice), who represent the area in Congress, partly because he has committed to dumping the check-in center and not expanding passenger capacity at LAX.

"Clearly, we share common opposition to LAX expansion and a steadfast belief that the residents living in and around the airport have every right to expect Jim Hahn to keep his promise not to expand airport capacity at LAX," Villaraigosa said.

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