A plane prepares to land on the northermost runway at Los Angeles International… (Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles…)
Rejecting the arguments of community groups, two Los Angeles City Council committees on Tuesday backed a controversial plan to move the northernmost runway at Los Angeles International Airport 260 feet closer to bordering neighborhoods in Westchester and Playa del Rey.
The runway proposal, which is strongly opposed in residential areas surrounding LAX, has emerged as an issue in the mayoral race between City Councilman Eric Garcetti and City Controller Wendy Greuel.
Garcetti said he opposes moving the runway; Greuel has been less specific, saying that she is committed to meeting with business and community groups on the matter.
In a joint meeting, members of the council's planning and land use management committee and the trade, commerce and tourism committee recommended 5 to 1 that the full council approve a $4.76-billion package of improvements for LAX, including a $652-million project that would separate the two northern runways to make way for a new center taxiway.
The council is expected to consider the proposals in the weeks ahead.
Committee members who supported the improvements sought by Los Angeles World Airports, the operator of LAX, said they were needed for safety reasons and to transform the airport into a world-class operation that could generate jobs and help revive a sluggish local economy.
Councilman and trade committee member Bill Rosendahl, whose district includes LAX, cast the only no vote, saying he supported the modernization of LAX but not the runway plan, which is opposed by many of his constituents in Westchester and Playa del Rey.
The latest round of airport improvements has already been approved by the city's Board of Airport Commissioners, the city's planning commission and Los Angeles County's airport land use commission. They include terminal additions, upgrades to existing passenger facilities and a transportation center, as well as light-rail links, new parking areas and a consolidated car-rental facility.
Proponents of the runway project say it would increase safety and make it easier for the airport to manage the largest commercial jets, such as the giant Airbus A380, which now requires special handling when it arrives at LAX.
They point out that airline pilots, the Federal Aviation Administration and six studies of the northern runway complex indicate that separation projects can increase safety.
However, opponents contend the runway project will increase noise, air pollution and traffic congestion in surrounding neighborhoods, further degrading the quality of life.
They say less harmful options are available and that the runway project would not substantially improve airport operations. Critics cite the latest study from the NASA Ames Research Center in Mountain View, which concluded that the northern runways are extremely safe and little would be gained from their separation.