A final study session for the findings of the feasibility study for a potential international terminal at Long Beach Airport (LGB) is set for December 13, after the the Long Beach City Council voted last night to lock in the date that could potentially move things forward at LGB.
The decision did not come quickly, as several members of the council struggled to negotiate a date for the study session and any possible future votes to forward the project. The feasibility study was formally requested by the airport’s main tenant, JetBlue Airways, in early 2015 and was completed and disseminated to the public in October.
After nearly two hours of deliberations, the substitute-substitute motion presented by Fifth District Councilwoman Stacy Mungo won out.
The 6-3 vote (Supernaw, Uranga and Austin dissenting) sets the study session inside the council chambers for Tuesday December 13, removes a gag-order against city staff that prohibited them from interacting with tenants at the airport regarding the possible international terminal and sets a possible action date where the city could approve or deny the project for January 24.
Mungo compared the city’s current situation to shopping for a Christmas tree, stating that the city didn’t even know which store to go to with its current level of information regarding the project. Her motive is to root out as much information, including possible project specifications that city staff may extract from tenants like JetBlue, before a potential council vote.
“What are we specifically looking at? Where would it go? How many flights would be anticipated to utilize the facility? How much would the facility cost? How big would it be?” Mungo asked. “All the things I think we need to know before making a decision to move forward or not to move forward.”
The study was conducted by the Jacobs Engineering Group which found that if the city council decided to approve such a terminal and it was approved by the requisite governmental agencies, the facility could cost upward of $21.5 million to construct. However, the report found that it also had the potential to inject tens of millions of dollars into the local economy.
Prior to the study’s undertaking, two large-scale community meetings were hosted by the city and Jacobs to examine and expand the scope of the study, with suggestions by the community being included in the probe. Since the findings were released in October, two separate meetings with both the airport advisory commission and the city’s economic development commission were held, drawing large turnouts from the affected communities in and around the airport’s flight path.
The divide came when trying to determine if the session should be postponed until after the holiday season to allow for better public turnout and when a date for possible vote should take place.
Seventh District Councilman Roberto Uranga, the maker of the original motion and strong advocate for denying the project, likened hosting a session and a vote on the same night to cramming for a test in school. The results, he said, are usually not as great as if you had time to “go home and do some homework”.
“A lot of people get failing grades because they cram the night before; they call that studying,” Uranga said. “That’s not studying.”
Uranga was joined in his dissent by Eighth District Councilman Al Austin, who took issue with the idea that the vote was placing the cart before the horse, in the sense that city staff would be directed to enter into negotiations of sorts with airport tenants for a project that hadn’t been approved or denied by the city council.
“By instructing staff to go in and start negotiating the deal points before we’ve actually made a decision is wrong. We didn’t do that with the Civic Center,” Austin said. “We didn’t tell staff to go in and start setting up negotiations before we told them to move forward with that process. We don’t do that with anything else.”
The idea of an international terminal existing at Long Beach Airport has been in the works for a handful of years. Robert Land, JetBlue’s senior vice president of Government Affairs and associate general counsel said that figure is closer to four years, when taking into account the airline having held off on its request until January 2015.
Land said the Jacobs study, a nearly 700-page report the described as “exhaustive”, answered all the questions the city had set forth to uncover when it paid for the study in the first place. He also sought to dispel allegations that the company was instructing residents and others to flood the council members’ emails with letters of support for the terminal.
“JetBlue doesn’t tell its customers what to do, they tell us what to do,” Land said. “We respond to their needs.”
Public dissent from those living in affected council districts has been a constant fixture during council meetings discussing airport-related business, in particular, the international terminal. Much of the opposition has focused around flight noise and a potential increase in noise being enabled by the installation of an international terminal.
The city’s noise ordinance, a grandfathered legislative tool that provides the city with one of the strictest air traffic noise policies in the nation, currently allows for a minimum of 41 daily air carrier flights daily, with the city adding an additional nine slots to comply with the findings of its most recent annual noise budget analysis.
Any international flights that would originate from or fly into Long Beach would have to fit into that budget of roughly 50 flights a day. In 2015, the city averaged about 30 such flights a day.
The city attorney’s office has maintained, and the Federal Aviation Administration has supported, the fact that regardless if the international terminal is approved or denied the city still faces the same legal threats from carriers who wish to force their way into LGB through a legal ruling. However, the city attorney’s office noted that filing a lawsuit is not the same as winning one.
“It’s like anything in the litigation world; we can never prevent someone from suing us at any time over pretty much anything,” Assistant City Attorney Mike Mais said in October, after the FAA released its legal opinion regarding the city’s threat of being sued. “The fact that they can sue us is one thing; the second part of the equation that really needs to be looked at is, and I would argue it’s the more important part, is can they successfully sue the city?”
Still, Lavonne Miller, a resident of the Eighth District, asked the council to delay any action, be it a study session or a vote, until after the holidays, so she could be at home decorating a Christmas tree instead of at city hall.
“I was really proud of Long Beach: when you stood against the Dakota Access Pipeline, you voted as one,” Miller said of the council’s earlier action to draft a resolution supporting the protest in North Dakota. “I’d really like to see you stand behind the neighborhoods in Long Beach and vote as one against this facility.”