Getting Past the Groupthink at LA’s World Airports

ALPERN AT LARGE - "Groupthink" is a phenomenon where an insulated group of professionals are so stuck in a mindset that the consideration of alternative ideas, or the consideration of "facts" being just plain WRONG is almost never done.

 The expression of "drinking the Kool-Aid" works along similar lines--and there is plenty of "Groupthink" and "Kool-Aid drinking" here in the City of Los Angeles! 

This is particularly true at LA World Airports, where many have fought for years, if not decades, to promote a MetroRail/LAX connection, and to avoid an unnecessary expenditure of funds to knock down and rebuild the entire northern portion of LAX, and to promote a regional air traffic plan that includes Ontario Airport and other airports in addition to LAX. 

All in the face of a LA World Airports (LAWA) administration and management that became entrenched in the Groupthink of "it'll neeeeeever happen".  Green Line to LAX?  Forget it...too complicated and expensive (stupid dreamers!).   

Train and staff our control tower and runway safety teams?  Forget it...let's just make LAX bigger, and the neighbors will just have to deal with it (stupid NIMBY's!).   

Create a regional air traffic plan for Southern California that includes Ontario, Burbank and other airports, that would help both passenger access, freight transport and freeway/road traffic?  Forget it...we don't have to when it's easier and cheaper to just do everything out of LAX (stupid idealists!) 

This Friday afternoon, the Los Angeles City Council will have a briefing addressing LAX modernization, featuring Bill Rosendahl, the Westside Los Angeles Councilmember (CD11) and his successor Mike Bonin, who will take over Councilmember Rosendahl's office later this year.   

Both Bill Rosendahl and Mike Bonin, as well as virtually every Westside Neighborhood Council and grassroots entity that I am aware of, has written motions that support LAX Modernization Alternatives 2 and 9 but does NOT support LAX Modernization Alternative 1. 

Alternative 1 smashes the northern air terminals and moves the northern runways about three football fields north, forcing a reconfiguration of the utilities and major roadways north of LAX, and affecting the adjacent commercial district of Westchester (which is an important revenue generator for the City of Los Angeles), to say nothing of the many residential communities already hard-hit by LAX operations. 

Alternative 2 rebuilds and modernizes the northern terminals and runways without the reconfiguration, for a third of the cost and without the construction and environmental nightmares that occur with the dramatic revision of LAX that is supported by the Groupthink at LAWA. 

Alternative 9 establishes MetroRail access to LAX, either directly or via an indirect LAX People Mover. 

Both the CD11 Transportation Advisory Committee (which I co-chair) and the Mar Vista Community Council (of which I am a Boardmember), have both taken a strong stance on favoring Alternatives 2 and 9, and opposing Alternative 1 with unanimous or near-unanimous motions.  Ditto for every other Neighborhood Council that's weighed in on the matter, because Westside access to/from LAX will be severely impacted by Alternative 1 and, well,  why spend a lot of money for nothing?

To repeat:  Alternatives 2 & 9 are the smart choices to build a world-class airport while protecting neighboring communities from Westchester to Inglewood, and to promote a much needed regional approach to LA's aviation traffic.  Alternative 2 does not unnecessarily rebuild and extend LAX into Westchester, while Alternative 1 does so at three times the cost of Alternative 2.  Alternative 9 favors a MetroRail/LAX connection that will enhance regional access to/from LAX.


On a related note, expansion and rail access to Ontario Airport, also owned by LA World Airports, is strongly favored by Ontario Airports and adjacent cities.  Modernization of both LAX and Ontario Airports are imperative goals to be met in the first half of the 21st Century.


Regrettably, LA World Airports, the same entity that has on many occasions resisted MetroRail linkage to LAX for decades and has only now acquiesced to a land use plan that accommodates MetroRail extension into the Central Airline Terminal loop, has taken a similarly-resistant tone against the adjacent and regional community by announcing its choice to support Alternative 1--and rebuild the North Runway another 260 feet north at great cost but with no obvious benefit.


There are three main arguments against supporting LAX Modernization Alternative 1:


1) While LA World Airports management claims that such a northern expansion is necessary to accommodate larger and more modern jumbo jets now being built in the United States and Europe, it should be emphasized that those larger jumbo jets already safely access LAX.  LA World Airports management's claims that only a northern LAX expansion can assure safe access and egress of larger jumbo jets is assuming that hiring sufficient numbers of trained personnel who will follow appropriate procedures is not a realistic goal that LA World Airports can pursue.


Yet while there are contractors and businesses that support Alternative 1 because of a presumed increase in public works-related employment and business opportunities, the negative impacts of traffic, noise and environmental sequelae conclude that the region will strongly risk a net decrease in its economy as a result of any adoption of Alternative 1.


Whether it is the greater costs of Alternative 1 ($713 million) over Atlernative 2 ($205 million), the 39 traffic intersections throughout the region that would be impacted with more traffic and congestion (with many having a projected Level Of Service), or the logistic problems of underground utility reconfiguration and potential changes to Lincoln Blvd., the local and regional economy will suffer both short-term and long-term financial harm by Alternative 1.  Access to LAX will be made worse, not better, by Alternative 1.


The arguments that Alternative 1 will create jobs are as irrational as any arguments to forego the redesigning of one's kitchen and proceed instead to expand the kitchen into a neighbor's property...because it would "create more jobs".  Spending money for its own sake is neither logical nor appropriate.


2) The only detailed safety study that quantified risk – the 2010 North Airfield Safety Study – concluded that the North Airfield is “extremely safe” as currently configured and any minimal safety benefits could not justify the cost of moving the runway.  


It should again be emphasized that larger jumbo jets already access LAX, and any increased major public works project expenditures of Alternative 1 over Alternative 2 would better be redirected into safety, efficiency customer-convenience or transportation improvements (such as a LAX/MetroRail connection).


3) LA World Airports’ own studies show that Alternative 2 is the most efficient alternative for moving aircraft between runways and gates – shorter taxi-in, taxi-out times with less jet fuel wasted.  In addition, LA World Airports' plans admit that Alternative 2 is the Environmentally Preferred Option, with fewer emissions during construction and decades of use thereafter. 


Better LAX spending priorities should focus on a fully-staffed, highly-experienced air traffic control tower and runway warning systems, LAX/MetroRail rail access system, terminal upgrades and easy access in and out of the airport, not on digging up and moving runways that are already safe and efficient.


Neither the City nor the County of Los Angeles should place itself at either fiscal or legal risk in the unnecessary fashion that LAX Modernization Alternative 1 does.  Neither the State of California nor the federal government should encourage any wasting of our precious financial  resources for transportation and public works projects.


After years of fighting for an improved transportation/land use plan for LAX and the adjacent region, isn't it time to end the Groupthink?  To put down the Kool-Aid?  Let contractors and chambers of commerce smash their own homes for the fun of it..."to create jobs" and the like.


There are plenty of jobs that will be created, and money spent for projects the taxpayers and commuters actually want, if Alternatives 2 and 9 are adopted.  There will, however, be plenty of jobs that are adversely affected--if not lost altogether--if Alternative 1 is implemented  to the detriment of the adjacent communities and to the region at large.  Remember:  those demanding Alternative 1 are the same folks who stiff-armed the rest of the region by preventing the Green Line to access LAX decades ago, and for decades afterwards.


Alternatives 2 and 9, and not Alternative 1, are in the best interests of the City of Los Angeles, the County of Los Angeles, the State of California, and federal transportation policy.


(Ken Alpern is a Westside Village Zone Director and Boardmember of the Mar Vista Community Council (MVCC), previously co-chaired its Planning and Outreach Committees, and currently is Co-Chair of its MVCC Transportation/Infrastructure Committee. He is co-chair of the CD11 Transportation Advisory Committee and chairs the nonprofit Transit Coalition, and can be reached at  He also co-chairs the grassroots Friends of the Green Line at   The views expressed in this article are solely those of Mr. Alpern.) 






Vol 11 Issue 23

 Pub: Mar 19, 2013