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High standards

The mayor might have a difficult time landing another airports chief as good as outbound Lydia Kennard.

January 04, 2007

WHEN A high-profile bureaucrat gets the itch to spend more time with her family after just 15 months on the job, the news often comes amid a cloud of failure. Not so with Lydia Kennard, who announced Tuesday that she will leave her post as head of the agency that oversees Los Angeles International Airport and three other Southern California facilities. Kennard's most recent tenure as director of Los Angeles World Airports may have been short, but what she accomplished will have a lasting effect on long-suffering LAX.

When Kennard took the job in October 2005, plans to finally modernize LAX were mired in court battles with airport neighbors, who were understandably miffed at former Mayor James K. Hahn's all-or-nothing $11-billion airport overhaul plan. Hahn's successor, Antonio Villaraigosa, lobbied for her appointment even before he took office. Kennard -- who was airports executive director from 1999 to 2003 and left before the city finalized Hahn's plan -- was tapped by Villaraigosa to improve an overwhelmed airport that hadn't seen any major construction since 1984.

She went to work in a hurry. In November 2005, Kennard and Villaraigosa agreed to shelve the most controversial parts of Hahn's plan in order to start the most badly needed renovations, including relocating one of the airport's accident-prone southern runways. She adopted feasible modernization plans that had eluded city officials for more than a decade and gave priority to making LAX's runways safer, renovating the outdated Tom Bradley International Terminal and updating the airport's baggage system.

The next airports director should have an approach similar to Kennard's -- a vision that addresses LAX's immediate and long-term problems (such as packed terminals and traffic) while respecting the airport's neighbors, instead of shoving grandiose plans down their throats. Villaraigosa's prescient call on Kennard in 2005, and his support this week for a second term for Police Chief William J. Bratton, are welcome signs that the mayor can identify and back the right administrators for key jobs when politics are set aside. Villaraigosa should maintain that standard when recommending Kennard's replacement.

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