LAWA leader: Switching airport could take years
Liset Marquez, Staff Writer
Created: 03/21/2011 06:37:47 PM PDT

LOS ANGELES – Los Angeles World Airports Executive Director Gina Marie Lindsey expressed doubt Monday that there could be a timely transfer of control of LA/Ontario International airport.

For more than a year the city of Ontario has been pushing Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and LAWA – which manages ONT – to either transfer control of ONT or amend the Joint Powers Agreement between the two agencies.

Ontario officials had a self-imposed deadline of July 1 for the transfer and had asked LAWA’s Board of Airport Commissioners to make its recommendation on the proposal by April.

“We are not optimistic that this would take months, this would take years,” Lindsey said. “We are happy to work with the city of Ontario on ideas they may have.”

Monday’s statement caught Councilman Alan Wapner by surprise, given recent discussions with Villaraigosa.

“We are perplexed that LAWA is pushing back on negotiating with Ontario for the transfer of Ontario International Airport,” he said.

Up until now, LAWA officials had not indicated such doubts about the time a transfer might take, Wapner said.

“For her to publicly make statements that are contrary and contradictory to the mayor’s office – we don’t know who we are dealing with,” he said.

But Wapner said Ontario officials will continue in their efforts to regain control of the airport.

“We disagree that it needs to be a lengthy process for the two government agencies to come to an agreement for the transfer of the airport,” he said.

Wapner said it is his understanding that the transition could be made in a matter of weeks or months, not years.

Wapner added local control would help redistribute air traffic throughout the region, and also would ensure costs to fly out of the airport are competitive.

“Local control eliminates the conflict of interest inherent in L.A. controlling what can be viewed as a competing airport in another jurisdiction at a time when LAX is trying to rebuild its own passenger traffic,” Wapner said.

Ontario officials already have given their city manager the approval to pursue litigation against LAWA if necessary. Wapner said he wants to continue discussions before any legal action is taken.

Late last month, Senate Minority Leader Bob Dutton, R-Rancho Cucamonga, introduced a bill that would create a regional airport authority and transfer control of ONT from the city of Los Angeles to that body.

Dutton has agreed not to move the bill forward unless Ontario officials request that he does. Wapner said he has not yet thought about approaching Dutton.

But Ontario officials have been meeting with members of Congress to discuss the airport’s plight. Wapner said many have expressed their support of a transfer.

Determining the financial costs of the transfer and whether a transfer would go against Los Angeles’ charter were the main concerns Lindsey cited for her doubts.

Lindsay explained that either of these paths would not only be very complicated in terms of finances, but also politically.

Commissioner Valerie Velasco echoed Lindsey’s sentiment.

“If we considered transfer, that has a lot of issues for us if we have no say what’s going on in Ontario,” Velasco said.

Velasco asked that the Los Angeles city attorney look into how a transfer might violate the city charter and whether the airport commissioners would be liable for any decisions made at ONT.

During Monday’s meeting, Lindsey did not use the PowerPoint presentation that was supposed to be used to illustrate the discussion. The presentation had been made available to the media prior to the March 7 meeting but the item was pulled off the agenda.

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