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LAX Wants Orange County Residents To Pay Fee

Retribution For Rejecting El Toro As Alternative?

A proposal to charge Orange County residents to use Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) has surfaced again.

Walter Zifkin, an executive with the William Morris Agency, suggested the idea be dusted off, in apparent retribution for the county's placing a series of growth caps at John Wayne Airport near Newport Beach, while also voting down an international airport at a decommissioned Marine Corps air station at El Toro.

Zifkin brought up the proposal October 16 just before the airport commission agreed to seek out a contractor to install a cashless taxi cab fee collection system at LAX, according to a story at DailyBreeze.com.

"Their decision to burden LAX should be shared, and I believe a fee would be a very appropriate way to do that," said Zifkin. "If this is something we are able to do, it is something that needs to be discussed."

Orange County residents disagree calling LAX the region's major airport.

"LAX is the principal airport in the region, and it's just natural for people to use it because it's the only way people can get to certain destinations," said Leonard Kranser, a south Orange County resident who successfully led the opposition to building an airport at the El Toro air station.

"Slapping a fee against us will only increase antagonism and create some showmanship in the political arena," he said. "Their thinking is as parochial as Orange County deciding to charge LA residents to access Disneyland or our beaches. We aren't the only county using LAX."

A survey said that only 13 percent of LAX passenger are from Orange County, according to figures from the Lost Angeles World Airports.

In contrast, 77.7 percent of the airport's passengers came from Los Angeles County, while about 9.3 percent of those surveyed came from a combination of San Bernardino, Riverside, Ventura, San Diego and counties designated as "other."

LAX served more than 61 million passengers last year, but city officials agreed to limit the airport's growth to 78.9 million passengers annually.

Airport planners and officials seek out ways to regionalize air traffic to other local airports under the terms of a settlement reached in 2005 with the county, three cities and the community group Alliance for a Regional Solution to Airport Congestion.

Denny Schneider, ARSAC's president, says the plan is "confusing."

"Of course I would encourage Orange County to start taking a portion of the air traffic burden, but I'm not sure how they would implement this," Schneider said. "If they can make it work, then it would be great."

Zifkin wants an automatic payment system be put in place for Orange County residents making their way to LAX by cab or limousine. "That idea triggered in my mind that we could use some sort of electronic pass for them to get into the airport," Zifkin said. "We need to seriously find out whether or not there's a way to do this."

Zifkin said a report could come before the Board of Airport Commissioners in as soon as two weeks.

But is the fee legal under FAA AIP and other guidelines? Some say no.

In 2000, Leland Wong and airport commissioners appointed by then-Mayor Richard Riordan called on the City Attorney's Office to develop measures to force Orange County residents to pay a fee to use LAX. This turned out to be illegal under federal laws.

Former Assemblyman George Nakano two years later, introduced a bill that suggested counties refusing to build airports to serve their share of the region's air traffic should forfeit state transportation funds.

The state Legislature approved Nakano's measure, but it was eventually vetoed by then-Gov. Gray Davis.

But the return of such a proposal demonstrates the frustration among some in Los Angeles who want to divert air traffic from LAX to other Southern California airports.

Los Angeles City Councilman Bill Rosendahl also has a proposal to charge a road toll to motorists driving from outside Los Angeles County to LAX. Funds raised from the toll would go toward transportation projects, including a 2-mile extension of the Metro Green Line to LAX.

"I want to work with Orange County, but these fees are a good thing to look into," said Rosendahl, whose district includes LAX. "Orange County still doesn't see that we're all in this together, but we hope that changes over time."

Orange County Supervisor John Moorlach disputed Rosendahl's claim, pointing at an expansion effort under way at John Wayne Airport. A new terminal with six gates is slated for completion in four years.

"I get the sense that LAX doesn't want to play ball with us, and I'm a little disappointed because we are stepping up to the plate," said Moorlach, whose district includes John Wayne Airport. "This fee proposal only undermines any kind of relationship we're trying to build."

John Wayne Airport is currently limited to 10.3 million passengers, growing incrementally to 10.8 million passengers by 2015.

"We don't want to see growth at John Wayne, but we really lost out with El Toro," said Seely, who explained that the airport issue had exploded into a near-civil war that pitted northern Orange County residents against their neighbors to the south.

"I know we're talking out of both sides of our mouth in some people's estimation, but we really don't feel that we can handle any more traffic at John Wayne," Seely said. "We would much rather send the traffic somewhere else."

The Marine Corps air station at El Toro was decommissioned in 1999, with four runways that were immediately capable of handling commercial flights.

Orange County residents rejected the idea, voting to convert the 4,700-acre air station into a giant park, rather than an international airport that would have served 18 million to 28 million passengers annually.

"I've always thought it was a shame that we lost the opportunity to have a ready-made commercial airfield that could have become an important airport," Zifkin said. "I don't know if Orange County is even concerned with the problems we have at LAX. Their vote showed that they are only concerned with themselves."

FMI: www.lawa.org

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