After 11 years and $150 million in design costs, the city has shelved its latest plan to modernize Los Angeles International Airport and will start over to craft a proposal that will do more to improve security and refurbish the aging facility.
The plan had drawn criticism from the city's new mayor, poor reviews from security experts and lawsuits by airport-area residents. All but one of its elements will be reconsidered and some of the most controversial, including a check-in center near the San Diego Freeway, are almost certainly dead.
The airport intends to begin work early next year on the one project still on track: the $300-million rebuilding of the southern runway complex, which federal officials maintain is critical to preventing close calls between aircraft. It will be the first major construction at the 77-year-old airport in more than two decades.
The city consented to review the $11-billion modernization effort in exchange for a promise from airport-area communities to drop federal and state lawsuits that challenged the plan and could have prevented work on the runways.
As part of the deal, Los Angeles also agreed to try to slow passenger growth at LAX, study how to spread air traffic around the region, explore ways to cut congestion, and speed up efforts to reduce noise and air pollution.
The settlement allows the city to overhaul the outdated Tom Bradley International Terminal and install explosives detection machines in the airport's complex baggage system. These projects are separate from the modernization plan.
Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who opposed many of the major elements of the plan, will now have an opportunity to remake predecessor James K. Hahn's controversial blueprint for LAX.
The city and county of Los Angeles, three cities near the airport, residents and a small army of attorneys spent weeks negotiating the legal settlement, which will be announced today at a news conference on the tarmac.
"This is an extraordinary achievement," said Lydia Kennard, who is the new executive director of the agency that operates LAX and was instrumental in bringing about the deal. "This is heralding a new level of cooperation and trust between the parties."
Residents and politicians also lauded the deal, which was described to reporters in a briefing Wednesday, calling it "historic."
"For many, many years, it seemed very much a David and Goliath uphill battle, with not a lot of support from politicians and broken promises," said Jennifer Dakoske Koslu, president of the Alliance for a Regional Solution to Airport Congestion, a residents group. "It seemed like we were never going to succeed. I think we're all very pleased with the settlement."
Villaraigosa, who was widely credited with bringing the feuding parties together, hopes the agreement will placate airport-area residents, who despised the LAX expansion plan drafted by Mayor Richard Riordan and the revision offered by Hahn.
Jaime de la Vega, deputy mayor for transportation, said Villaraigosa made a campaign promise to settle the lawsuit. "He wanted to put this behind the city," De la Vega said.
On Sept. 29, the mayor called airport officials, politicians, residents and their respective attorneys to a meeting in an airport boardroom and asked that they set aside their differences. Nine weeks later, after many hours of intense negotiation, they signed the preliminary pact.
Settlement participants said Wednesday that the mayor could not have accomplished his goal without the help of Kennard, his hand-picked airport director, who immediately began attending the negotiating sessions after she started at Los Angeles World Airports on Oct. 8. Kennard had been the city's airport director before, from 1999 to 2003.
The deal must still be ratified by the Federal Aviation Administration, the Alliance for a Regional Solution to Airport Congestion, Los Angeles County and the cities of Los Angeles, El Segundo, Inglewood and Culver City.
The city's airport agency will start its third attempt in 11 years to devise a palatable proposal to upgrade the 77-year-old facility as soon as the litigation is dropped in state and federal court.
Sued by several cities, LAX agrees to limit growth and halts plans to rebuild runways, a terminal and parking.
Officials will outline options for improving traffic flow, a key element in updating the airport's design.
In her first year back in the pilot's seat, Lydia Kennard has managed to get some long-delayed projects off the ground.