Wendy Greuel has quietly walked back remarks she made last week about the LAX reconfiguration project, after getting herself in hot water with Westchester activists.
The remarks came during last week's televised debate, which was hosted by the L.A. Area Chamber of Commerce and which focused on projects important to the business community. When asked if she supported moving the north runway, Greuel said yes.
"I agree with the reconfiguration of that north runway," she said. "It has to move north."
That remark went largely unnoticed in the coverage of the debate, but it sent Westchester residents into a panic.
Los Angeles International Airport is considering runway reconfiguration as part of its years-long modernization project. Business groups want to push the runway north to allow Airbus A-380s to land easily, which they say will make the city more competitive for businesses. But Westchester residents worry that moving it will encroach on homes and businesses, creating more noise and a greater hazard to residents.
After the debate, one angry Westchester resident wrote to Greuel: "I am so disappointed on your recent comments on the LAX expansion. You did have my vote, however the foolish idea to move the 24R runway 260 feet closer to Westchester is irresponsible... You need to think of ALL the residents of Los Angeles."
Greuel did not vow to move the runway the full 260 feet, but she did say it needed to move north -- which is a red flag to activists. After the debate, Greuel e-mailed a statement to several angry Westchester residents, explaining that her definition of "reconfiguration" includes reconfiguring the taxiways -- not the runways.
"When I said reconfigure in the NBC debate on the 28th, that is inclusive of Alternative 2, which reconfigures the north airfield taxiways," Greuel wrote. "I outlined the principles that needed to be followed including neighborhood impact, safety, and competitiveness. I have consistently stated that the community's concerns needed to be addressed in any LAX improvement plan."
That did not satisfy Denny Schneider, a board member of the Westchester Neighbors Association, who has been fighting the airport expansion for years.
"We're not buying anything that doesn't say, 'Don't move the runway,'" Schneider said. "And it must be a public statement, not just a private one. The other statement was certainly made in public. To give us private assurances is not enough."
The other candidates all hedged on the LAX question, acknowledging that both sides of the controversy have legitimate points. Councilman Eric Garcetti said he has not made up his mind, but that he could be convinced to support the project if community concerns are addressed. Kevin James and Jan Perry offered similar remarks, saying they need more time to study the issue.
"None of them have said, 'Yes, for sure, I'm on board'" with opposing the runway move, Schneider said. "All have tried to get away with taking a mediocre position, trying to imply they might be willing to not move the runway, but not willing to say it. That isn't going to fly at this point. This community, and this region, has been through this too many times."
The candidates are set to debate in Westchester on Tuesday night, so the issue may well come up again.