By City News Service
Five new members of the city Airport Commission were confirmed today by the City Council, but not before at least three of them said they would be willing to take a fresh look at a much-debated project that would move Los Angeles International Airport's northern-most runway 260 feet closer to residents.
Before the mayor's nominees for the commission were confirmed, Councilman Mike Bonin tried to secure assurances that the runway change -- which is vigorously opposed by community groups and is the subject of a pair of lawsuits -- would get a second look from the revamped commission, even as other projects approved by the council as part of a $4.8 billion LAX upgrade are allowed to move forward.
In April, the LAX expansion and modernization plan won council approval on a 10-3 vote. The dissenting votes were cast by then-council members Bill Rosendahl, Dennis Zine and Eric Garcetti.
Bonin, who was Rosendahl's chief of staff at the time but now represents the district that includes the airport, opposes the plan by Los Angeles World Airports to add a taxiway between LAX's two northern runways in order to accommodate new-generation "super" jumbo jets such as the Airbus A380.
Bonin contended the planning department's own documents "debunked the argument" the change would increase safety. He then asked the appointees, who include former Councilwoman Jackie Goldberg, if they believed the airport agency should hold off on the runway project until all the other LAX modernization projects were finished.
Cynthia Telles, a hospital executive, responded that "it would be a mistake not to begin moving forward" on the other LAX projects, such as a rental car facility, automated people mover and connection to the Metro Green Line. She said she would "maybe postpone" the runway shift "to a date when we have further studied the issue."
Goldberg said she had not looked at the issue "in any depth," but based on Bonin's statements, she said, "Yes, certainly I would be willing to look at this (runway issue) again."
Appointee Sean O. Burton, a real estate executive and personal friend of the mayor, added, "This is the subject of an active litigation and I know as a commission one of the first things we will need to deal with is how to resolve that litigation appropriately."
Since the City Council approved the runway move, the residents' group Alliance for a Regional Solution to Airport Congestion and SEIU United Service Workers West, a labor group representing airport service workers, have filed lawsuits in efforts to halt the project.
The council unanimously confirmed Telles, Goldberg and Burton, as well as Gabriel Eshaghian, a partner at real estate investment company The Somerset Group and a former airline executive, and Matthew Johnson, an entertainment attorney and supporter of Garcetti's mayoral campaign.
Former Garcetti adviser Bea Hsu was not in town today and did not attend the confirmation hearing, mayoral aide Jeff Millman said.
Garcetti earlier this month announced a near complete overhaul of the Airport Commission, replacing everyone but Valeria Velasco, a real estate planning attorney who was the only commissioner to vote against the runway move in February. Velasco's term began in 2015 and expires in 2017.