Long Beach Airport

Thursday, December 16, 2004 Will Douglas stop airport expansion?
Two say their votes for development help stunt hub’s growth.
By Jason Gewirtz
The Long Beach (CA) Press-Telegram

LONG BEACH – Swept into office on anti-airport expansion platforms, the City Council’s two newest members say their votes this week for a massive development north of Long Beach Airport didn’t stray from that mission. Their argument: A proposed Douglas Park with housing, commercial and retail space would eliminate any federal temptation to expand the airport to the north.

But Vice Mayor Jackie Kell, the council’s sole vote against the project, said the argument doesn’t hold up. Instead, she says, the political pressure will come from future Douglas Park residents bound to object to noise from the airport, putting the city in an even tougher political spot.

“The real issue with me is do you want citizens who are unhappy,” she said.

For Councilwoman Rae Gabelich and Councilman Patrick O’Donnell, who shared similar anti-airport growth platforms in spring campaigns, Douglas Park was a safeguard against future airport growth. The Federal Aviation Administration would have found the project’s 260 acres too tempting had the council not approved development there, Gabelich said.

“I believe that tremendous pressure could have been put on the political arena here,” she said.

Tuesday, the two sided with an 8-1 majority to approve plans for Douglas Park, which will include 1,400 single-family homes, condos, apartments and town homes directly north of the airport. The project will also feature 3.3 million square feet of commercial, research, light industrial and aviation space, 200,000 square feet of retail space, a 400-room hotel and 12 acres of parks.

O’Donnell said his support was rooted in Boeing Realty Co.”s economic forecasts for the project. Douglas Park is expected to create 11,000 on-site jobs and 10,000 regional jobs. But the possibility of the land being used for a terminal or for the airport in the future were in the back of his mind, too, he said.

“Was that one of my fears? Certainly,” he said.

Kell challenges the argument. The airport runway configurations, she said, don’t lend themselves to northward expansion. Plus, she said, if Douglas Park wasn’t built, another development would likely come in its place.

“When we talked to other developers in other cities, everybody we talked to said this is such a choice place for businesses,” Kell said. “The FAA’s not going to come in there and expand the airport.”

The threat was real, especially given past regional comments about the need to accommodate more airport growth, Gabelich said.

“I believe the position I took really protects the community overall from expansion of the airport,” she said.

To Kell, the bigger issue is how new residents at Douglas Park will live with smaller general aviation aircraft that fly low and use the closest runway to the proposed development. General aviation are aircraft that do not include commercial, military or emergency aircraft.

In October, the airport saw about 2,400 commercial takeoffs and landings, compared with about 23,000 general aviation flights.

Kell knows the issue well because she and her husband, former Mayor Ernie Kell, have flown for 30 years and owned a small plane at Long Beach Airport for 15 years. But she said her opposition to housing in Douglas Park had nothing to do with her private aviation interest.

“That’s not anything,” she said. “We’re talking 25,000 flights over those homes.”

Inevitably, she said, the council will see organized citizen opposition from Douglas Park homeowners.

Gabelich and O’Donnell, whose districts sit under the commercial aircraft northwest takeoff and southeast landing patterns, said they don’t expect complaints about commercial jet noise from Douglas Park to the north. O’Donnell walked the site and said the noise was not comparable to what residents hear in his 4th District.

Both said the proposed 1,400 housing units, whose numbers were reduced from an initial proposal of 3,800, were a plus for the project.

Gabelich said she was pleased with a provision that designates 120 town homes for people 55 and older. O’Donnell said he preferred the higher-end housing that dominates the project.

And Gabelich, who won election after leading a grass-roots effort to oppose terminal expansion, said that if Douglas Park residents eventually organize themselves, it won’t be a negative.

“It keeps the city people who are making decisions on their toes,” she said.