PRO: LAX expansion plan is good policy Featured

5:16am EDT June 30, 2005

Our system of government is, and should be, based on setting public policy through advocacy, debate and discussion. Unfortunately, today the courts seem to have more of an influence on public policy than do the elected officials we choose to make these decisions.

Such is the case with the modernization of Los Angeles International Airport -- a long-needed project that has droned on for more than 10 years.

In the case of LAX, those opposing the well-conceived modernization plan decided that, when things did not go their way, they would sue to block those who would improve safety at LAX and reduce the impacts on local neighborhoods.

The LAX Consensus Plan, which was largely based on recommendations made by the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce after nearly a year of study, separates airport projects into two categories -- green-light and yellow-light projects.

Projects that have general consensus (including the support of the two mayoral candidates) would be green-lighted and begin right away. These projects include bringing Metro's Green Line closer to the airport for improved rail access, widening the south runways for improved safety and moving rental car agencies into one central, easily accessible location. These projects are estimated to cost $3 billion.

Yellow-lighted projects are those that do not have general support and will be subject to more public review, including the Manchester Square check-in center and the demolition of Terminals 1, 2 and 3, which would be replaced by a new terminal complex in the middle of the airport's horseshoe-shaped roadway. The total cost of these projects is estimated to be $8 billion.

Part of the LAX Consensus Plan is a $499 million set-aside for community improvement funds that would pay for road improvements, noise mitigation and job training for local residents.

The Los Angeles region, which, if it were a country, would be the world's 17th largest economy, is served by many airports in Southern California. LAX is the region's largest airport and supports much of the nation's tourism, imports and business travel. Its design is outdated in terms of homeland security, public safety, accessibility, convenience and the next generation of larger airliners.

If nothing is done to modernize the airport, the congestion and security issues at LAX will get much worse. If nothing is done, we will lose tourism -- which drives our economy -- to other parts of the country. If nothing is done, we will see businesses that use LAX for freight begin shipping to other airports, thus costing us good-paying jobs and needed economic activity for tax revenue.

In fact, one should wonder where those who now oppose LAX (those who live and moved into the area after the airport was built) would live and work if not for the economic activity created in their neighborhoods by the airport.

So why are airport opponents suing to stop modernization? Understandably, home values are always a concern. But we haven't seen any evidence of values declining in Los Angeles -- in fact, they continue to rise. Just ask those people what they bought their homes for and what they are valued at today.

Nonetheless, the main reason for the Consensus Plan is to improve the traffic situation in airport communities and minimize the impacts that go along with any airport. Did homeowners near the airport not realize that they were buying homes in the nation's second-largest city near the region's busiest airport?

Opponents of LAX contend that other airports need to carry more of the Southland's load as well. We couldn't agree more, and the L.A. Area Chamber was very disappointed that Orange and San Diego counties have opted not to carry their share of the load. We would like to see more growth at airports in Ontario, Long Beach, Palmdale and Burbank.

Regardless of whether other airports expand, LAX still is in need of improvements so that we can use the airport more conveniently and safely.

The LAX Consensus Plan is the best plan to be introduced so far, and has earned the most support from public officials and airport stakeholders.

To do nothing will make the situation much worse.

Rusty Hammer

President and CEO

Los Angeles Area

Chamber of Commerce

About the author

Rusty Hammer is president and CEO of the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce. The L.A. Area Chamber, with nearly 1,400 members, represents the interests of business in L.A. County. Founded in 1888, the chamber promotes a prosperous economy and quality of life in the Los Angeles region.

About the LA Area Chamber

Founded in 1888, the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce has served the needs of the Los Angeles business community through its public policy and advocacy initiatives and its business development programs and services. The chamber also works to ensure that the Los Angeles area has a business-friendly environment where all businesses can grow and prosper. With this comes paying close attention to the quality of life the region offers our members' employees and families. For more information, visit the chamber online at www.lachamber.org.