LAX Expansion Plan Under Attack

Friday, January 7, 2005
2 More Lawsuits Filed Over Hahn’s LAX Plan
Three suits now seek to invalidate the City Council’s approval of the project and to have a new environmental impact report done.
By Jennifer Oldham
The Los Angeles (CA) Times

The county of Los Angeles, two cities and a group of residents sued the city of Los Angeles on Thursday over its modernization plan for Los Angeles International Airport, claiming its voluminous environmental studies were flawed and asking the court to order the city to conduct additional analysis.

The two lawsuits, filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court, join a similar petition submitted Monday by the city of El Segundo. Under state law, opponents of the LAX plan have until today – one month after the City Council’s approval of the proposal – to challenge the $11-billion plan in court.

The county joined with the cities of Inglewood and Culver City in one of Thursday’s lawsuits, and the Alliance for a Regional Solution to Airport Congestion filed the second action. The city of Los Angeles, the City Council, Mayor James K. Hahn, the Airport Commission and the city’s airport agency were named in both.

All three suits filed this week share a similar theme: that Los Angeles violated state environmental law by misrepresenting the airport’s passenger capacity, by ignoring public comments and by failing to include adequate measures to ease additional noise, air pollution and traffic.

The lawsuits also claim that the plan’s environmental studies understate its negative effect on air quality, noise and traffic.

Hahn’s LAX plan “is the quintessential red herring aimed at disarming the opposition of public entities . which represent virtually all of the many thousands of citizens, predominantly minority and low-income, who will suffer the vast bulk of the project’s adverse environmental impacts,” according to the 59-page petition filed by the county and the cities of Inglewood and Culver City.

All three suits ask the court to invalidate the City Council’s approval of the LAX plan last month and bar any work until a more detailed analysis is completed.

The three lawsuits could be consolidated if a judge finds that they contain similar allegations.

The Federal Aviation Administration reiterated that litigation wouldn’t deter the agency from issuing a decision on the plan by the end of March.

The mayor’s office said that it had expected the litigation and that it remains in negotiations with the county and neighboring cities to find a way to address their concerns.

“The mayor is confident we’ll be able to reach an agreement that everyone is satisfied with,” said Elizabeth Kaltman, a mayoral spokeswoman. “Mayor Hahn is also confident that the EIR will stand up to scrutiny.”

<>County supervisors said Thursday that they filed suit to preserve their legal options, but added that if their concerns are not met, they would proceed with the litigation.

“The county’s lawsuit is a placeholder, if negotiations with the city of Los Angeles fail,” said Supervisor Don Knabe, who represents airport-area residents.

The county has demanded that city officials cap LAX at 78 million annual passengers and eliminate the centerpiece of Hahn’s plan, a remote check-in center near the San Diego Freeway.

The city has argued that it cannot legally constrain passenger growth at LAX and cannot scrap the check-in center without starting the process over.

To mollify critics, the mayor’s LAX plan was modified earlier last year to divide it into two phases.

The first includes a transit hub, an elevated tram, a consolidated rental-car center and the relocation of the southernmost runway closer to El Segundo.

The most controversial projects, including the check-in center, were put in a second phase in which they would undergo more rigorous environmental, traffic and security studies before construction.

The lawsuits charge that this last-minute change violated state law because officials didn’t conduct additional environmental studies on the altered plan.

“The division of the LAX Master Plan into projects that will definitely go forward and those that may not renders the description of the expansion plan and its impacts unreliable,” wrote Jan Chatten-Brown, an attorney for the Alliance for a Regional Solution to Airport Congestion, in its 34-page petition.