Long Beach Airport-Proposal to Scale Down Improvements

Tuesday, February 1, 2005
Council delays vote on airport growth
By Felix Sanchez
The Long Beach (CA) Press-Telegram

LONG BEACH – The City Council late Tuesday delayed action until next week on a proposal to scale down Long Beach Airport improvements that would be reviewed by an environmental impact report. But based on council comments made during a boisterous hearing into the controversial project, attended by an overflow crowd of more than 300 airport-area residents, it appeared council members were leaning toward adopting the smaller proposal and not a larger city staff-recommended project.

The council’s action sets up a critical meeting Feb. 8 to decide the parameters of the project looked at by the EIR and the issues health, environmental and quality of life that should be studied.

Once the EIR is completed the council would then tackle whether to approve any improvements at all. The EIR will likely take a year to be completed six months for a consultant to prepare, with three months of public review and then votes by the Planning Commission and the City Council.

District 8 Councilwoman Rae Gabelich spearheaded a drive, along with council members Tonia Reyes Uranga and Patrick O’Donnell, to get the city to replace a proposal to increase the terminal to a maximum size of 133,243 square feet with new permanent passenger holding rooms, counter space, offices, concessions, restrooms and parking positions for airplanes.

The council members instead want an alternative proposal that was drawn up by the city and an architectural consultant at the request of the Airport Advisory Commission, which would increase the airport only to 102,980 square feet.

Several council members said the “compromise’ smaller project might work best for the neighborhoods and meet their concerns about the potential impact of a big project and the fear it would open the airport to more daily flights and impact their neighborhoods and property values.

“I’m prepared to say tonight I’m seriously considering (the smaller project),” said Councilwoman Laura Richardson. “I was one of the strongest proponents of ‘super sizing.”

Councilman Val Lerch also said he believes a 133,000-square-foot terminal is too big.

But Richardson and Lerch, as well as Councilwoman Jackie Kell, argued a vote should be delayed until Feb. 8 so there could be a full council voting member Dan Baker was absent and because that was always intended to be the day the council would determine the EIR scope.

The city contends that the airport terminal needs improvements so that it can handle the strain of nearly 3 million passengers who now fly into and out of the airport.

A citizens group, LBHUSH2, argues that the staff-recommended project, which would add 98,673 square feet of permanent facilities to the existing terminal, is too large, and that the smaller alternative, which would add only 68,410 square feet, should be the EIR focus.

The terminal, built in 1941, now comprises 58,320 square feet, including some temporary buildings, which would be replaced by permanent facilities.

The airport’s biggest tenant, JetBlue Airways, said it was not ready to address the issue of a smaller project Tuesday night, especially because the airline planned to have several executives fly in to make the argument for terminal improvements.

The EIR would also include alternative proposals, which Gabelich, Reyes Uranga and O’Donnell said should be smaller than the project they are recommending, as well as a “no build’ alternative.

Terminal improvement supporters, including the Long Beach Airport Association, say that debate over the project has taken too long already. The Airport Advisory Commission held 15 public sessions, hearing from residents and interested groups and businesses, over nearly a year, and in a split vote endorsed the city’s recommended project.

Arguments that the public’s viewpoint was ignored, made by LBHUSH2, are incorrect, the association argues.

“The council has the recommended plan and needs to get the EIR process moving,” states a letter from association secretary Kevin McAchren.