International Flights Study Incomplete

Corliss G. Lee, 5th District Resident

The proposal to approve Long Beach Airport for international flights is scheduled to be voted on January 24. This proposal, in my estimation, is the most important action ever undertaken in our city in the 18 years I have lived here with respect to affecting the community and quality of life and yet there has been precious little communicated to the public.

Although the city council funded a feasibility study on this topic to the tune of $350,000 of taxpayer money, the parameters that were set with the contractor that did the study did not require financial data that would either support or debunk the proposal as being good or bad for business in Long Beach and there was no requirement for a deliverable that identified potential current or future risk. The feasibility study would have us believe that there is no downside to this proposal. A document that does not acknowledge risk – that only reports the favorable or innocuous affects is one-sided and incomplete.

The current proposal mainly addresses Jet Blue and their intentions to make Long Beach a key destination for flights to/from Mexico. In the short term, Jet Blue would be the main beneficiary should this proposal be approved with Gulfstream also enjoying the benefit that private jets from overseas could land directly at Long Beach rather than having to clear customs at LAX. However, once approved, there is nothing to stop other airlines (Delta and American for example) from bringing in international flights. International flights normally have larger aircraft and more passengers.

With international flights increasing at the rate of 10 percent per year at LAX, one could easily surmise that it would only be a matter of time before other airlines sought to bring international flights to Long Beach as well. By stating the assumption in the opening pages of the feasibility study that it was to be a “given” that the noise ordinance will remain in place, any scenario where the noise ordinance may be challenged was effectively dismissed.

This exclusion needs a reality check. Both American and Delta airlines currently have flights at Long Beach airport and both are in the business of international travel. Should they decide to bring international flights to Long Beach, there is the likelihood that the noise ordinance will be challenged in court. As the demand for growth in international travel increases there is no way to stop prospective businesses/airlines from challenging the noise ordinance.

The sentiment among those residents attending meetings on this topic reflected strong opposition to existing noise levels and anxious concerns for any situation that would increase noise and night time arrivals. Note that flights that depart late often arrive late. Nothing can be done in that circumstance to stop the plane from waking up the neighborhood when it arrives after hours.

The existing noise ordinance lacks “teeth” and airlines willingly pay the penalty to bring flights in late. Should the noise ordinance be successfully challenged, the noise and late arrival problems would likely be exacerbated (more flights would translate to more problems). Living under the flight path could go from being a nuisance to a misery.

I would submit however, that should this proposal pass at the Jan. 24 city council meeting, there are far more grave concerns that the community should consider.

Having lived close to LAX in the 1950s and 1960s and then working within half a mile of that airport for another 20 years, I was in close proximity and observed the steady degradation of the neighborhoods surrounding that airport as it went through several rounds of expansion. Approving Long Beach Airport for international flights is potentially the first step down this slippery slope.

Negative impacts can include:

  1. An increase in the transient population. People that do not live in the community but are passing through become familiar with the neighborhood. As non-resident traffic increases, it can lead to an increase in crime. Cars are broken into in business areas and the businesses affected tend to pull out.
  2.  Expansion in the hotel business. It doesn’t matter what class of hotel is built in the area, with the hotel business comes the sex trade. The individuals that work in that business want to be close to their market and will take up residence. Topless/bottomless bars come with the territory.
  3.  Exposure to increased pollution with larger and more aircraft coming from overseas. Exposure to jet fuel has known risks relative to cancer. Note: A side affect would likely be closing down the Skylinks Golf Course. Golfers would not favor a course with large airplanes taking off and landing directly overhead while they inhale fumes and deal with noise.
  4. Noise level increases and planes landing at odd hours of the night that degrades the quality of life for those living under the flight path.
  5. The eventual outcome may be a band of land around the airport that is undesirable for families.
  6. One could anticipate a lowering of property values from any or all of the above.

The feasibility study that was funded scoped the topic down to affects within five years. The negative impacts noted above take longer to take root in a community, but they are risks that should be considered. The current quality of life that we enjoy in Long Beach may follow the fate of the neighborhoods surrounding LAX. East Long Beach is largely residential (as were Lennox and Inglewood).

Lakewood along Carson may attract the hotel industry (similar to Century Blvd.); local strip malls and business areas may take on the impacts known to the business area on Sepulveda in Westchester with increased crime, etc. We cannot assume that the residential and business areas of Long Beach and Lakewood can avoid the downside of close proximity to an international airport as it grows and expands.

We are left with the following significant concerns about the proposal to convert Long Beach airport to an international airport:

There was no financial impact data provided in the feasibility study. The director of airports did subsequently make an attempt at extrapolating financial data for the December city council meeting, but it has not been appropriately scrutinized to determine its validity or whether the scope and assumptions were appropriately determined before the numbers were generated.  

Without a section on risk in the feasibility study the city council is operating without due consideration. The work to evaluate this proposal is incomplete.

The sole beneficiary of this proposal appears to be Jet Blue, (with some benefit to Gulfstream). In the meeting with the 5th district and Stacy Mungo, the question was posed “What is the upside for the City of Long Beach?” No upside was identified. It has yet to be determined if there is an upside for anyone other than JetBlue and Gulfstream.

Meetings and communication with the residential community surrounding the Long Beach Airport on this topic have been scant and poorly advertised. Many people in the community are unaware that a proposal that could have major impact to their lives and property is under consideration. The preponderance of comments at the December city council meeting tended toward a summary that the benefits are not worth the risk.

In conclusion, one has to question why a city council member that represents a residential neighborhood adjacent to or affected by the airport would consider voting in favor of this proposal. Clearly there is little to recommend it and considerable risk in the long term if we pursue it. Since Jet Blue seems to be the main beneficiary should the proposal be approved, the question that begs to be asked is “Which of our city council members has accepted campaign contributions from Jet Blue?” Council members(s) that accepted campaign contributions should recuse themselves from voting on this proposal. 



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