Long Beach Airport Development Debate

Sunday, January 30, 2005
Council continues airport growth debate
Three members to seek smaller expansion, more details of project.
By Felix Sanchez
The Long Beach (CA) Press-Telegram

LONG BEACH – The City Council on Tuesday will resume debate over proposed terminal improvements at Long Beach Airport, with three council members scheduled to ask the staff to prepare significantly smaller plans for the project. Council members Patrick O’Donnell, Tonia Reyes Uranga and Rae Gabelich also want conceptual drawings and exterior elevations of the project, so they can better visualize what it will look like in relation to the current terminal.

The requests, as well as calls for a financial agreement between the city and airline tenants outlining how to pay for any terminal modernizations, are the latest volley in what has turned out to be a nearly two-year focus on the controversial improvements.And the environmental impact report on the project needed before the council can decide whether to proceed with any improvements at all cannot begin until a council vote on its scope.

The council has set that for Feb. 8.

Tuesday’s airport debates will be included in the council’s regular session.

“This is about providing transparency and letting Long Beach’s residents know that this City Council will not proceed with any airport terminal modernization plan without assurances that we will do everything possible to protect our neighborhoods’ quality of life,” O’Donnell and Gabelich wrote in a joint statement.

The council will also debate proposed guiding principles for airport marketing and user responsibilities, designed to give elected officials, management and staff direction in areas ranging from environment, public involvement and health, to safety, land use and financial impact when making decisions about the airport.

A key guideline involves airport improvements, and asks that any renovations or improvements work to preserve neighborhoods impacted by airport activity, protect the existing noise ordinance and support the financial self-sufficiency of the facility.

The Long Beach Economic Development Commission has indicated it is concerned the guidelines, composed by a council transportation infrastructure committee, don’t recognize the financial and economic benefits of airport operations.

That is a critical oversight because the guidelines will be used to evaluate airport modernization and future airport usage, said a letter signed by chairman Frank Newell and sub-committee chairwoman Debra Winter.

O’Donnell, Reyes Uranga and Gabelich want the primary improvement project to have a maximum terminal size of 102,980 square feet after all renovations and additions are made. That compares to the 133,243 square-foot size plan endorsed by the city’s Airport Advisory Commission in a split vote late last year.

In addition, the trio want two alternative plans drawn that are scaled down in size from the newer downsized main project. All then would be studied by the EIR.

Determining the scope of the EIR and what effects and impacts it should study is the final step before the environmental review begins. The EIR must be completed before the council can tackle the issue of whether the improvements should be approved, and if so, what the size of the project will be.

Airport management and the city staff say the facility needs additional space to handle the 3million annual passengers that fly into and out of Long Beach. That number could grow even larger if unused commuter flight slots are filled just last week America West said it will petition for three of those 25 open slots.

The airport now relies on two temporary holdrooms to handle increased passenger traffic.On the Net: