Long Beach Airport

Wednesday, April 20, 2005
Airport backers make move toward city vote
By Eric Johnson
The Long Beach (CA) Press-Telegram

LONG BEACH – An attorney for a group of Long Beach residents and business leaders seeking to expand the Long Beach Airport terminal sent a letter to the city clerk Tuesday asking for clarification on the how to place an initiative on an upcoming election ballot. The move by the Long Beach Alliance signaled that the group is serious about letting voters decide airport improvements.

The letter, which was written by San Francisco Bay area attorney Barry Fadem, does not allow the group to begin collecting signatures for a ballot measure, said Long Beach City Clerk Larry Herrera.

If the group decides to file for an initiative, it would first have to publish a notice in a local newspaper, then apply to the city clerk’s office to gather signatures.

The alliance would have six months to gather signatures from at least 10 percent of the city’s 200,000 registered voters to get on the April 2006 mayoral ballot, or 15 percent of registered voters for a special election in the fall.

A special election would cost the city $600,000 to $800,000, according to 2004 estimates from the Los Angeles County Registrar of Voters.

If Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger were to call a November election for statewide initiatives, the airport referendum would cost the city $250,000 to $300,000.

At issue is a proposal to expand the airport terminal to accommodate nearly 3 million annual visitors. City staff members and airport managers, using a consultant study, had recommended the 58,320-square-foot terminal be expanded to 133,324 square feet.

But the City Council on Feb. 8 approved an environmental impact report of improvements up to 102,980 square feet.

Leaders are girding themselves for an intense public battle over the future of the airport.

“The initiative process is a great exercise in democracy, and while we have very compelling information that shows just how strong support would be if this was put to a community-wide vote, we are going through the process of determining what makes the most sense for the community,” former City Councilman Mike Donelon, a leader of the alliance, said in a statement to the Press-Telegram.

Donelon, however, added that “all of our options are on the table.”

Councilwoman Rae Gabelich, whose election campaign last year focused on airport expansion, warned against a referendum.

“This is going to tear the city apart,” she said.

The EIR on the smaller plan approved by the council will likely take about a year, and notice of public meetings are set to begin shortly. A ballot initiative on the larger improvements package, if approved, would automatically bypass an environmental review.

On Thursday, Mayor Beverly O’Neill, three council members, the city attorney and city manager met to discuss the city’s potential strategies if there were an initiative. There has been some discussion of speeding up the EIR process, all because city officials fear a ballot measure would be explosive and expensive.

“They’re basically trying to circumvent the EIR process,” Gabelich said. “The environmental people will be up in arms over this too, not just the community.” Membership of the pro-initiative alliance will likely be revealed within a week or two, Donelon said.

The alliance’s goal is to build a broad base of public support for the larger airport expansion proposals. The letter from the attorney says the alliance is seeking a terminal where travelers can “grab a bite to eat’ before flying cross-country and the check-in process and passenger pick-up is made easier.

“These improvements have nothing to do with more flights at Long Beach Airport,” the letter says.

The alliance hasn’t reveal its finances yet, but Gabelich said it’s a crucial point.

“I’d like to know who’s funding this,” she said. “This won’t be a low-cost item.”