The Long Beach City Council is still over a month away from any tentatively scheduled hearings on the recently released feasibility study that found Long Beach Airport could support a federal customs facility. However, on Tuesday the council decided how that study would be presented to the public in the weeks leading up to its formal hearing.
When the Jacobs Engineering Group was awarded the contract to conduct the study at the beginning of the year, it was for an amount just shy of $350,000, with the total excluding representatives from the firm providing additional presentations to the public. Separate meetings hosted by the city’s economic development and airport advisory commissions will precede the council’s hearing and will cost the city an additional $20,000.
The idea that the city should have to pay Jacobs more than the originally approved price for the presentation did not go over well with every member of the council. The item, which was originally slated for the consent calendar—normally a formality to be approved during council meetings—was pulled out for further discussion.
Eighth District Councilman Al Austin, who represents one of the most impacted districts in the city when it comes to airport noise, was one of the most outspoken. He said the study was conducted for the benefit of the city and its residents, not for Jacobs to continue to rack up charges at the city’s expense before eventually voting against approving the additional funds.
He was joined in dissent by Fourth District Councilman Daryl Supernaw, but the item passed with a 6-2 vote. The funds are expected to come out of the airport fund and be offset by operating revenue.
A more pragmatic approach was exhibited by others on the council.
Seventh District Councilman Roberto Uranga said he opposed the approval of the study at first but conceded this was “the price we’re going to pay for this study” when referring to the extra $20,000. He said his major concern was whether the meetings would be carried out in a way that the public would get its money’s worth.
“You’re going to get a slew of people, you’re going to get a room full of angry constituents here who are not going to be able to have a voice and to express their concerns and to ask their questions,” Uranga said of the potential for Jacobs’ representatives to not be made available for the two public meetings.
Uranga’s comments could be foretelling, considering the tenor of the outreach meetings held prior to the study’s conclusion. Now that Jacobs has concluded that an inspections facility could exist at LGB, the public will no longer be faced with a hypothetical situation.
The study released early last week stated that an installation of an FIS facility at LGB could cost somewhere between $17 million and $21.5 million depending on the site of any future construction. It also reported that if the project was green-lighted and approved by the requisite federal agencies it has the potential to inject tens of millions of dollars annually into the regional economy as well as create hundreds of jobs.
JetBlue Airways, the airport’s main tenant, formally requested the study last year as it hopes to expand its international offerings with Long Beach serving as its focus city in the region. According to interviews with Jacobs staff, the airline said it intends to fly routes to Vancouver, Mexico and various other destinations in Central America. While not confirmed by the company, the Jacobs study assumes that the construction costs of the facility would be assumed by JetBlue with the city responsible for the ongoing operational costs, something that could be offset by user fees.
Residents in affected neighborhoods around the airport have vehemently opposed the study and its potential outcome for fear that it could invite another challenge to the city’s noise ordinance which is regarded as one of the most stringent in the nation and was granted grandfathered status by the Federal Aviation Administration in the 1990s. It currently sets a minimum of 41 air carrier flights and 25 commuter flights daily with limitations on the amount of cumulative noise can be produced each hour.
A separate conclusion released by the city attorney’s office stated that the city’s consideration of building the facility “would not jeopardize” the exempt and grandfathered status of the city’s noise ordinance.
The airlines operating out of LGB (JetBlue, Delta, American,Southwest) currently do not fly all allotted flight slots, and only JetBlue has expressed interest in flying internationally out of Long Beach. It’s estimated that upward of 10 daily flights could eventually become international routes if the facility is indeed built at LGB.
Two community meetings are scheduled for October 20 ( Airport Advisory Commission) and October 25 (Economic Development Commission) before the findings will be presented to the city council, a meeting tentatively scheduled for November 15.
The Airport Advisory Commission is scheduled to begin at 6:30PM inside the Long Beach Gas and Oil Auditorium, located at 2400 East Spring Street, and the Economic Development Commission meeting will be held at City Hall with the study session on the feasibility study to start at 6:00PM.