Long Beach residents opposed to expanding the city's burgeoning airport said Saturday that they hope a councilwoman's new compromise proposal can defuse a virulent debate over the airport's future.
Councilwoman Tonia Reyes Uranga, who cast a key vote June 20 supporting an environmental impact report for expanding the airport's terminal, said she will ask the council Tuesday to rescind that vote or seek other ways to avert a court challenge from residents fearful of more flights at an airport ringed by homes and schools. Expansion opponents face a July 24 deadline to file a lawsuit.
The airport has grown dramatically in the five years since JetBlue Airways chose it as its West Coast hub, drawing travelers weary of congestion at Los Angeles International Airport. Those supporting the expansion say it will help bring new business to the city, but nearby residents complain that it will increase traffic, pollution and airport noise, particularly from late-night flights.
Foes of expansion were surprised and angered last month when Reyes Uranga -- whom environmental groups have praised for her clean-air efforts -- voted to accept the environmental report. Some critics immediately announced a recall effort and created a website denouncing her record.
On Friday, Reyes Uranga scheduled a motion for the 5 p.m. council meeting that could allow the panel to pull back its controversial 5-2 approval of the report, which some residents say is seriously flawed. She said Saturday that she hopes a council discussion will clarify what has become a tangled and highly contentious issue.
Several other council members could not be reached for comment.
"There's a lot of hysteria, untruths, finger-pointing going on," Reyes Uranga said, adding that she does not know where a new discussion will lead. "Nothing might happen Tuesday, or everything might happen."
The number of commercial flights at the airport has risen rapidly, from 15 daily departures five years ago to 41 today -- the maximum allowed by the city's airport noise ordinance. Plans call for nearly doubling the size of the 58,230-square-foot terminal to 97,545 feet.
Residents of California Heights, Bixby Knolls, Los Altos and other nearby neighborhoods say they worry that the plan will prompt a successful legal challenge to the noise ordinance.
Some residents said Saturday that the councilwoman's motion might allow a more thoughtful review of the proposal.
Mike Kowal, president of LBHUSH2, a community group concerned about airport expansion, said he is encouraged by Reyes Uranga's move. He hopes the council will vote to rescind the report.
"What LBHUSH2 is basically asking for," he said, is "more time to meet with staff and consultants to decide what is the best size for that airport."
But businessman Curt Castagna, who supports an improved terminal, said the council vote followed years of review and hundreds of hours of public debate.
"What's happened, you have a group of naysayers who won't be happy until nothing is done," said Castagna, president and chief executive of Aeroplex Aviation Center, a facility for corporate and other business aircraft at the airport. He chastised critics for mounting the recall challenge to Reyes Uranga simply because she didn't vote as they wished.
"It's apparent she's feeling a significant amount of pressure by a vocal minority of residents," Castagna said.
The controversy comes during a pivotal time at City Hall, as Beverly O'Neill, mayor for 12 years, prepares to leave, along with two longtime council members, Frank Colonna and Jackie Kell. Tuesday's meeting is the last before newly elected Mayor Bob Foster and two new council members take office July 18.
Such political turnover is uncommon in Long Beach, and few people are willing to predict the new council's position on airport plans, although Foster has expressed concern about whether the environmental report is adequate.
Reyes Uranga said Saturday that she was not influenced by the recall drive but rather wanted to ensure that all nine members of the council could review the project together, because some members missed earlier meetings.
If the motion to rescind fails, Reyes Uranga is proposing another motion that would effectively extend the deadline for critics of the expansion to file suit to allow for more discussion.
Such an extension, said City Atty. Robert Shannon, might let the city "achieve some level of consensus that would avoid a lawsuit and allow us to proceed."
Times staff writer Nancy Wride contributed to this report.