Noah Moss, 3, of Maui plays on the grass near LAX on Monday as a plane prepares… (Gina Ferazzi, Los Angeles…)
Los Angeles mayoral candidate Eric Garcetti came out Monday against a plan to move the northernmost runway at Los Angeles International Airport, putting him in line with neighborhood activists near LAX and at odds with one of the city's biggest business groups.
Garcetti said he supports an array of LAX construction projects favored by airport officials, including new terminal space and an "automated people mover" to transport passengers to a light rail station. But the city councilman plans to vote against pushing the runway 260 feet closer to homes in Westchester and Playa del Rey, according to campaign spokesman Jeff Millman.
The $652-million runway proposal is supported by the Coalition to Fix LAX Now, a group that includes the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce and the powerful Los Angeles County Federation of Labor. Both have endorsed City Controller Wendy Greuel, Garcetti's opponent in the May 21 runoff election.
The LAX proposals are expected to reach the council later this year. In a statement, Millman called the roughly $4-billion package of airport projects favored by Garcetti "the environmentally superior option." It excludes the runway shift and a plan to realign Lincoln Boulevard near LAX, both of which were recommended by airport officials.
"Everybody agrees on nearly all of the proposals — improving the terminals, bringing light rail to LAX, and building a consolidated car rental facility," Millman said. "Eric wants to move forward on these important projects as quickly as possible to create more jobs now, increase safety, relieve traffic, reduce pollution and improve the experience for passengers, workers and residents."
Greuel was less specific on the runway plan Monday, saying through a spokeswoman that she is committed to meeting with both business and neighborhood groups on the subject. "Wendy believes we need to move forward in making LAX more competitive and safe and she believes the residents who make the area around LAX their home deserve to be heard," Greuel spokeswoman Shannon Murphy said in a statement.
Asked if that means she supports the runway project, Murphy responded in a second email that Greuel is "committed to keeping the airport competitive and safe, while also committed to hearing the neighborhood concerns."
Airport officials have been pushing for an additional 260-foot separation between the two northern runways to allow for construction of a taxiway. Backers say the additional distance will make it easier to serve the largest commercial jets, such as the Airbus A380, which require special handling when it arrives at LAX. A series of safety studies support the runway relocation, officials say.
Neighbors north of LAX say the runway relocation will increase noise, air pollution and traffic congestion. They cite a recent NASA-Ames study funded by the city's airport agency, which concluded that the northern airfield is already safe.
Garcetti disclosed his position to The Times two days after receiving the backing of the Alliance for a Regional Solution to Airport Congestion, an advocacy group fighting the runway plan. Westchester resident Denny Schneider, the group's president, said the runway was a major factor in the organization's decision.
The announcement could give Garcetti a lift in Westchester and Playa del Rey, where airport issues are on the front burner for many voters — and where turnout was higher than the rest of the city in the March 5 primary election.
Greuel led the field of candidates in Westchester, edging ahead of attorney and former conservative radio host Kevin James, an outright opponent of the runway plan, by just 34 votes, according to a Times analysis. James, who placed third citywide, also was the top vote-getter in nearby Playa del Rey, getting 48% of the vote in one of that neighborhood's precincts.
Among the foes of the runway project is U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Los Angeles), who gave a speech last month calling the labor-chamber advocacy efforts at LAX an "unholy alliance." Waters has not yet endorsed in the campaign but told the Westchester Democratic Club that she was meeting with both Garcetti and Greuel to discuss the runway plan.
Times data reporter Ben Welsh contributed to this report