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Once LA Voters Learn LA Runs ONT, They Want It to Stop

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Updated 5:01 pm: The city of Ontario has started marketing the heck out of its efforts to take over management at its LA/Ontario Airport. The airport is currently run (and has been since the sixties) by Los Angeles World Airports, which also oversees LAX and Van Nuys. But the airport has suffered over the past few years and Ontario says LAWA has been neglecting its Inland Empire step-child. Now the city's launched a Set ONTario Free campaign, which includes a recovery plan and a set of endorsements from the LA Times, the LAX-area neighborhood council, and others. Its website says it hopes to turn Ontario into an Aerotropolis, "a new urban form placing airports in the center with cities growing around them" (the idea comes from John D. Kasarda of the Kenan Institute of Private Enterprise at the University of North Carolina's business school). The campaign's latest tactic is a poll that shows that 52 percent of likely Los Angeles voters "favor shifting control to Ontario," as reported by the LA Times. Except that only 15 percent even knew LAWA managed Ontario in the first place.

The poll also found that 17 percent of likely LA voters want LAWA to maintain control and 31 percent are undecided. But: "After voters were informed about the details of the proposed transfer, the majority increased dramatically to 77% while the opposition shrank to 12% and the undecided category to 11%." The results are based on a random sample of 901 likely presidential election voters in LA.

The LAT sums up the arguments for transfer: "that Ontario has been mismanaged by Los Angeles, that local control would provide better leadership, that Los Angeles could focus on improving LAX and that a shift in ownership would increase the convenience for many travelers who have been forced to use LAX instead of Ontario." And against transfer: "that Ontario lacks experience running airports, that Los Angeles has invested hundreds of millions of dollars in the airport and that the economy, not current management, is responsible for Ontario's steep decline in passengers."

Set Ontario Free no USB from Group 1 Productions on Vimeo.

Update: LAWA has released this statement about the poll:

TO CITY OF ONTARIO POLL RESULTS In 1967 the City of Los Angeles, at the request of the City of Ontario, began managing and developing Ontario Airport, which at the time was serving less than a million passengers. Today LA/Ontario International Airport (ONT) is a medium-hub, full-service airport with commercial jet service to major U.S. cities and through service to many international destinations.

Over the past 45 years, Los Angeles World Airports (LAWA) has made significant investments to modernize ONT. Over $560 million in airport capital improvements have been made utilizing funds from a combination of LAX and ONT airport revenues, Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) grants and bond proceeds secured by LAWA.

At the time these investments and improvements were being made at ONT, LAX was deteriorating and not enough money was being re-invested for capital improvements.

Now that LAWA has done the work, has invested significant time and money, the City of Ontario wants the City of Los Angeles to GIVE the airport back to them for $50 million, a price that doesn't come close to either the value of the airport today (and let's be clear, this is a "down" market) or the value of the significant investment the City of L.A. has dedicated to ONT. The operating costs of ONT do not come at taxpayer expense. Ontario airport is self-supporting and LAWA intends to hold onto this important City of Los Angeles asset.

As aviation industry data supports, LAWA has not mismanaged the airport as has been implied by the City of Ontario. The airport is built to a capacity that is far above what the current economy of the Inland Empire can support. Combined with airline response to the economic recession, including cut backs in the number of flights and available seats along with airline consolidation and wholesale withdrawal from medium-hub airports, you have a situation that will not improve in the near future.

The poll released today by the City of Ontario is misleading and an attempt to deflect the truth. It is ridiculous for any governmental body to presume that an airport developed and modernized at the expense of another city, is entitled to a “transfer” of that asset. Ontario has enjoyed decades of benefit from LAWA’s time and investment in ONT, and now with a slump in the economy, expects to wrest the asset back for a sum far below its real worth.

LAWA has refrained from criticizing the City of Ontario because we continued to hope our consistent invitations (three to be specific) for them to participate in marketing ONT would be accepted. It is now clear they have only one objective: to take the asset the City of L.A. built, at a foreclosure price.

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and the Board of Airport Commissioners recognize this move for what it is and will not abandon their fiduciary responsibilities. As we have been doing for over 40 years, LAWA expects to continue to focus its work on building ONT to its potential, rather than be distracted by repeated attempts to engage in a process to sell an airport that is not for sale.

· Set ONTario Free [Official Site]
· L.A. voters say Ontario should control its airport, poll finds [LAT]
· Los Angeles: Take Our LA/Ontario International Airport, Please* [Curbed LA]