A plane lands at Los Angeles International Airport. City officials are… (Brian van der Brug, Los Angeles…)
In a sign of the high stakes and hardening political positions surrounding a major runway project at LAX, two of the state's most powerful Democrats have come down sharply at odds on the issue.
U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters, a foe of the plan to shift Los Angeles International Airport's northernmost runway 260 feet closer to Westchester and Playa del Rey, has gone public with her unhappiness with Rep. Henry Waxman, a colleague who supports the runway relocation.
Speaking over the weekend to the Westchester Democratic Club, Waters depicted Waxman as someone who had joined "an unholy alliance" composed of organized labor and the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce, which view the runway plan as critical to job creation and keeping the airport competitive.
Waters said Waxman initially told her he hadn't made up his mind on the runway, only to sign on to the plan the next day and seek support from his colleagues. She said she later confronted Waxman in an elevator and "was not nice about it," telling him she felt misled and was disturbed that he was involved in an issue that directly affects her district, which includes LAX, Westchester and part of Playa del Rey.
"I said ... 'I don't like that and I don't have any respect for you for having done it,' " Waters told the audience. "Anybody here who wants to tell him I said that, please tell him."
Waxman said he hasn't actively sought support for the runway project, which city officials say is needed to improve airport safety and make LAX more efficient. Waxman said that LAX affects the entire region — and that he was swayed by organized labor, the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce and the Federal Aviation Administration.
The Westside lawmaker confirmed he had spoken twice with Waters but said he felt no obligation to inform her of his final decision.
"I don't think I needed to get her permission to take a position on an issue," said Waxman, whose district includes cities near the airport, including El Segundo, Manhattan Beach and parts of the Westside.
The Los Angeles City Council is expected to vote later this year on the runway plan, which is part of a larger $4.76-billion LAX modernization effort. All but one of Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's airport commissioners back the plan. Opponents include Councilman Bill Rosendahl, a Villaraigosa ally who represents Westchester and LAX.
The split between Waters and Waxman comes as a Westchester-based community group has formally accused airport officials of violating a 2006 court settlement on airport expansion.
The Alliance for a Regional Solution to Airport Congestion contends that LAX officials have not done enough to spread the growth of air traffic to other airports in the region, as the settlement requires. It also asserts that the city has not properly addressed the concerns of airport neighbors or adequately consulted a special advisory committee for modernization projects.
Airport officials counter that they made good-faith efforts to comply with the agreement.
City officials are seeking an additional 260-foot separation between the two northern runways to allow for construction of a taxiway. Backers say the project will make it easier to manage the largest commercial jets, such as the 500- to 800-passenger Airbus A380, which requires special handling when it arrives at LAX. A series of safety studies have supported the runway relocation, officials say.
But neighbors north of LAX say the project will increase noise, air pollution and traffic congestion, further degrading their quality of life. They cite a recent NASA-Ames study funded by the city's airport department, which concluded that the northern runway complex is safe and little would be gained from the proposed $750-million project.
The county Board of Supervisors ordered a study last month to determine how well the airport agency is following the 2006 agreement and the requirement to work on dispersing air traffic.
In her weekend speech, Waters said politicians have given in to the labor-chamber alliance on the runway project because unions and business groups are "the places they go" for campaign contributions. She urged the audience to find activists in Waxman's district who will fight the runway plan.
Waxman said he had no intention of getting in a political fight with Waters, adding that the runway debate is "not about us."