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LA City Council approves controversial $4.8 billion LAX improvements plan

Travelers are stopped at a security check point at Los Angeles International Airport on November 23, 2011 in Los Angeles.
Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images
Travelers are stopped at a security check point at Los Angeles International Airport on November 23, 2011 in Los Angeles.

The Los Angeles city council voted today to move ahead with a controversial, $4.8 billion dollar improvement plan for L.A. International Airport. The project includes moving a runway closer to nearby homes. That decision angers some residents.

Under the plan, LAX's northern-most runway will be moved a couple of hundred feet away from the central terminal, closer to the communities of Westchester and Playa Del Rey. That will allow for the construction of a taxi lane that could accommodate large airplanes like the airbus 380.

Dozens of people interrupted city council members as they hashed out the issue. Residents of those nearby neighborhoods held up signs that said "Air Quality, No Voice At LAX." 

Craig Eggers, who chairs theeAirport Relations Committee of the Westchester-Playa Neighborhood Council, worries the plan will increase traffic and air pollution.

"And when I say air pollution, it's not necessarily or exclusively the aircraft, it's all the vehicle traffic that goes into supporting aircraft operations including passengers getting to and from the airport."

But  Los Angeles World Airports Executive Director Gina Marie Lindsey says the project would increase safety, generate jobs and accommodate jumbo jets.

"The efficiency of the airfield is critically important," Lindsey said. "Because getting those people on and off not only the big airplanes but the smaller airplanes as well is really important for the economy because that makes travel convenient... and we want to be a friendly airport."

Gary Toebben, president of the L.A. Area Chamber of Commerce, says federal support of the plan helped push it through the council.

"That has been recommended by the Federal Aviation Administration," emphasized Toebben. "In fact the aviation administrator sent a letter yesterday urging the city council to support the recommendation and move the runway and add a taxiway." 

L.A. City councilmembers Eric Garcetti - who's running for mayor - and Bill Rosendahl - who's nearby 11th district would be affected by the expansion - expressed their opposition to moving the runway.

Janine Watkins of Watts cheered when they spoke.

"My neighborhood is on the way to the airport so all the airplanes go over," said Watkins. "We have yet to understand the impact. We have yet to understand ground transportation that's going to be rerouted to us." 

SEIU union organizer David Huerta says his group, on behalf of many members that serve LAX, will continue to explore legal challenges to stop the runway expansion.

"Those four thousand workers deserve to have a voice in this process because what happens at the airport directly affects them, the health of themselves because they live in the surrounding community." 

The L.A. City Council voted 10-3 in favor of the LAX modernization project. Airport officials say they could break ground on the north runway plan in five years.