Despite persistent protests from residents of Westchester and Playa del Rey, the city Airport Commission on Tuesday approved a modernization plan for LAX that will push the airport's northern-most runway another 260 feet north.
The proposal still needs the backing of the city Planning Commission, City Council and mayor.
Airport officials reviewing the modernization proposals said reconfiguring the runways on the north airfield would bolster safety in an era of larger aircraft and allow for the construction of a center taxiway.
Commissioner Boyd Hight noted that "an airport as important as LAX needs to have ... the capability to handle large aircraft without shutting down operations for special handling in the runway,'' as well as separated runways to improve safety.
"There isn't any question. There isn't any doubt," he said.
Westchester and Playa del Rey residents, however, have long objected to the idea of moving the runway, arguing it would increase noise and pollution without doing much to improve safety.
Residents have packed recent public hearings to oppose the proposed runway realignment, with some calling the project a "boondoggle'' and LAX's version of a "bridge to nowhere.''
Commissioner Valeria Velasco, the only member of the board who voted against the plan, began a 20-minute-long statement by playing a recording of the noise airplanes make while flying over her house.
Velasco moved into a neighborhood near LAX in 1988 with the knowledge she would be living near an airport, but she said the anticipated number of passengers at the airport has ballooned since then, and now planes fly over her house every two minutes.
She questioned whether moving the runway would actually improve safety at the airport.
"I want to leave a legacy of doing what's right,'' she said.
Commission President Michael Lawson, however, said he didn't want to belong to a commission that rejected safety improvements that could avert an airline disaster.
"The fact is, this is a reasonable and fair compromise that will not lead to the elimination of nearby homes and businesses,'' Lawson said. "The impacts on neighbors, according to the study, is less than the current pollution. Noise is less than the current noise ... It will not be a monumental impact on surrounding neighbors, but it will be a very significant and substantial increase in safety for this airport.''
Over the past year, thousands of public comments were evaluated and safety and operational issues were considered, according to the final environmental impact report for the project, before LAX staff came up with the final set of recommendations.
In the final EIR, airport staffers concluded that moving the northernmost runway 260 feet away from the central terminals would allow for a taxiway to be built between the two runways there. That will solve a major operational problem on the parallel runways, where a 1991 runway crash killed 34 people.
The taxiway would also allow 747s and Airbus 380s to use the northern two runways during good weather, airport officials said. The large planes are usually restricted to the southern two runways now.