Ontario International Airport
Documents cited by attorneys representing Ontario detail several instances in which Los Angeles World Airports appeared to direct key personnel to focus efforts on Los Angeles International Airport rather than ONT.

By Liset Marquez, Inland Valley Daily Bulletin
Posted: 10/11/14, 9:21 PM PDT | Updated: 46 secs ago

ONTARIO >> A billboard marketing blitz will take off on Monday promoting flights out of LA/Ontario International Airport.

But it’s a long time coming for backers of local control of the airport, who for years have argued that Los Angeles World Airports — the agency that runs ONT — has not lived up to its promise of spreading air traffic — and marketing — throughout the region’s air hubs.

And documents cited recently by attorneys representing Ontario detail several instances in which Los Angeles World Airports appeared to direct key personnel to focus marketing efforts on Los Angeles International Airport rather than ONT, which is struggling to gain more travelers.

Ontario officials are focusing on those efforts in their legal battle with LAWA to wrest control of the airport.

LAWA has often scoffed at the notion, yet Ontario’s lawyers point to court documents that show an April remark by Steve Martin, LAWA’s chief operating officer, in which he referred publicly to the agency’s attention to ONT as a “storied tale of charity toward the Inland Empire.”

For those arguing for local control, it is a storied tale of greed from Los Angeles.

At least that’s the case Ontario has been making about the marketing situation at LA/Ontario International Airport for the past six years.

LAWA had a contractual obligation, a 2006 settlement agreement with neighboring cities, to spread air traffic throughout the region, including to ONT, attorneys said.

“We have been able to show that there is a calculated conspiracy to drive business out of Ontario,” said Ontario Councilman Alan Wapner.

They once again point to the court documents, where it appears that LAWA officials agreed to launch a billboard marketing campaign earlier this year only to show the agency was making some effort to draw attention to the underutilized facility.

Based on an email exchange quoted in court documents, Martin told ONT general manager Jess Romo the billboard campaign was needed so that it would “look like we are doing something to ward off bullets from the City of Ontario.”

Martin wrote: “We will get no more credit for $500K of billboards as $150K, and we will get just as much positive coverage for five high-profile billboards as 25 [billboards]…that never get media noticed.”

With the exception of advertisements in local publications, Ontario officials say they have yet to see any billboards erected.

“It was a sham; it was a facade,” Wapner said about efforts to market air service to ONT. “It was them trying to show what the mayor asked them to do. They would publicly say ‘this is what we’re doing,’ and then get behind closed doors and say, ‘we’re not going to do that.’ ”

Despite the upcoming ads, court documents show there was a shift in policy regarding ONT marketing at least four years ago. Michael Collins, adviser to LAWA’s executive director Gina Marie Lindsey, emailed Lindsey and Michael Molina, senior director of external affairs, on Jan. 23, 2010, and told them that “if (regionalization) keeps on ‘happening’ the City [Los Angeles] is in deep trouble.”

Collins later advised Lindsey that regionalization, which “once meant the goal of shifting air traffic away from the City of Los Angeles … has to be seen as a form of economic and employment suicide.”

Alan Rothenberg, LAWA board of airport commissioner at the time, testified about the direction the agency was going in 2010 and on comments Lindsey said during a meeting.

“It’s perfectly clear what she was saying that it’s — when she talks about pushing it to other jurisdictions, she’s talking about San Diego, Burbank, Orange County. It’s not saying that it’s self-destructive to her to push it to Ontario. For these purposes, Ontario is our jurisdiction,” he said.

However, in a January 2010 email to Collins, Lindsey shared notes for an upcoming meeting in which she writes that efforts to redistribute air traffic was a “politically driven mantra to appease LAX neighbors.”

For years, Ontario attempted to negotiate a transfer of the airport to a local authority. But after meetings with staff from then Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa — and a report which set a sale price of $474 million for ONT, nearly double the $250 million Ontario offered — it had become clear both sides were far apart.

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