As LAWA prepares to release their long-awaited plans to expand LAX, my neighborhood, Westchester, cowers in fear and anticipation. Previous expansion efforts have disrupted lives, destroyed businesses, and generally incited an atmosphere rife with anxiety because any movement of the north runway (as proposed) will alter the fabric of our community.
That said, LAX is an embarrassment. Most of its terminals are woefully inadequate, out of date, and frankly, falling apart. We don’t even have mass transit serving the airport, removing any credibility in calling LAX a 21st century airport.
So, I am all for some big changes to LAX, but I—like my neighbors—fear that LAWA’s plans to create a 21st century airport will be rooted in a 20th-century approach: expansion and the tired idea that “bigger is better”.
Here’s the problem. Expand the runway north before you modernize the existing infrastructure and you build something that can’t be used effectively. Until we create an efficient, user-friendly passenger experience, it won’t matter how many planes we can park on the bigger runway. They’ll just sit there.
Don’t get me wrong; this is a huge opportunity here. LAWA wants to spend some real money on this project and if we approach this with a little intelligence, LA will have a world-class airport and will get a much-needed investment into the local economy, but we have to be smart about it.
But expansion first is not the smartest move. Yes, an expansion would create 1,000s of temporary jobs in construction but at the cost of a huge swath of Westchester’s permanent business district. In essence, we’ll trade permanency for temporary.
I propose we focus entirely on modernizing existing infrastructure first. It preserves the Westchester business district and corresponding tax base while creating a New Deal-style project for our nascent tech industry in Venice to grow around. That would take what is now a group of pioneering tech start-ups up into the next level: a real and permanent industry within Los Angeles that is vibrant and evolving to create new jobs and serve Los Angeles through its work.
And while we do that, expand the green into LAX and there are your construction jobs. Let’s not approach this challenge from the perspective of conventional wisdom. Instead, let’s band together and build a newer, better LAX that serves its community and becomes something we can be proud of.