Neighbors of Los Angeles International Airport turned out in force at a public hearing Tuesday night to protest plans to separate the two northern runways by 260 feet for safety and efficiency reasons.
Scores of residents from Westchester and Playa del Rey said the new runways, if built, would increase noise, air pollution and traffic congestion in nearby neighborhoods, further degrading a quality of life that is already heavily impacted by airport operations.
They also asserted the project would have little, if any, effect on runway safety or the efficiency of handling the largest commercial airliners now going into service, such as the giant Airbus A380.
The critics noted the plummeting sales of the A380 as an indication that the runway shift is no longer needed and cited a 2010 NASA study that concluded the northern runways are already very safe.
"This is a policy issue, not a NIMBY issue," said Robert Ackerman of the Alliance for a Regional Solution to Airport Congestion, who noted that other alternatives under study would avoid moving the northernmost runway closer to homes.
The Los Angeles planning department held the hearing at the Proud Bird Restaurant near LAX to take public comments about the runway project, which has been recommended by airport staff over other options for further environmental review.
The plan includes a taxiway between the runways, which airport officials assert will increase safety. Such a taxiway was installed on the airport's southside several years ago.
Upward of 300 people attended Tuesday's event, including Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Los Angeles), who spoke out against the proposal.
"We need to balance the needs of the airport and those of the community," Waters said. "The north runways are safe under the current configuration."
However, supporters of the proposal, who were repeatedly booed by members of the audience, said there have been five other studies and a statement from the FAA asserting that runway separation projects can increase safety.
Alan Rothenberg, a former chairman of the Board of Airport Commissioners, noted the project would provide tens of thousands of jobs and billions of dollars in economic benefits for the region. Rothenberg also is a member of the Coalition to Fix LAX Now, a group of prominent business and labor groups.
Priscilla Cheng of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, a proponent of the project, said reconfiguring the runways would contribute to the ongoing modernization of the airport. Other union representatives expressed similar support at the hearing.