Friday, February 03, 2017

Long Beach Airport (KLGB) decision wasn’t grounded in reality: Guest commentary

By Randy Gordon

Recently our city council voted not to move forward with a customs facility at the Long Beach Airport.

After two years of waiting through studies, public comments and outreach to provide information for all of those concerned — which includes residents and businesses — the Long Beach City Council sided with emotions and misinformation over facts and economics.

The facts collected from the independent, professional study commissioned by the City Council and the multiple reports by the talented Long Beach Airport staff were simply ignored.

Simply, a customs facility would have allowed for international flights, potentially opening up new nonstop destinations from Long Beach Airport (LGB) to cities in Mexico and Central America. The ability to travel internationally without facing the inconvenience of traffic and crowds at Los Angeles International Airport would open new business opportunities and more reasons for travelers to visit LGB, creating jobs and a new source of sustainable economic stimulus for our city.

A customs facility would not lead to airport expansion. Long Beach’s strict noise ordinance limits the number of daily flights to 50. The study the city council commissioned — validated by the Long Beach city attorney and the Federal Aviation Administration — confirmed the ordinance is safe if a customs facility were to be built at LGB.

The same airplane flying internationally produces no more or less noise than it does when flying domestically. Where the planes go doesn’t matter: the noise ordinance will always limit the amount of noise and number of flights, period.

To be sure, JetBlue as the requester of the customs facility would have benefitted from the ability to fly internationally. However, let’s not forget what type of corporate citizen JetBlue has been since arriving in Long Beach.

JetBlue has poured hundreds of thousands of dollars of support into our community through nonprofits and charitable organizations, such as Long Beach State athletics, Long Beach Lesbian & Gay Pride and many others. JetBlue employs more than 700 people at LGB, many of whom also live in Long Beach.

But one has to ask how much longer can a good corporate citizen continue to give to a community whose elected officials have signaled it may not be wanted here.

This project is about more than just what’s good for JetBlue. Others would have benefited as well, such as all of the non-commercial aviation companies in and around the airport. While JetBlue employs many Long Beach residents, so does the non-commercial aviation community. Many are considered small businesses and provide value to our local economy, including well-paying jobs, and give back to the community in their own right.

Statements that the economic benefits of a customs facility did not outweigh the potential risks are simply not true. Indeed, the reasoning pedaled by those who opposed customs — particularly council members Stacy Mungo (who made the motion) and Suzie Price (who seconded it) does not stand on facts cited by the city’s own study.

A customs facility is indeed financially feasible and would put taxpayers at no risk they would ever foot the bill. The cost of the facility would be paid partially by LGB user fees — not taxes — and JetBlue is offering to pay at least 70 percent of the cost to build the facility. While LGB does have outstanding debt, so does almost every airport; in fact, Moody’s, a credit rating agency, recently reaffirmed LGB’s solid investment grade rating of A3.

This project is a good deal for Long Beach: a customs facility will cost the taxpayers nothing and would generate thousands of jobs and $185 million in economic activity year after year without any risk to the noise ordinance.

We thank Council member Dee Andrews for his support on this issue and the need for new dollars and jobs that the data indicated would come to the city if a customs facility had been approved. We also commend the airport and city staff for a well-run process and good information. It was simply ignored this time.

In the end, I hope we have not lost a good corporate citizen in JetBlue. Ultimately, the company must make a business decision based on numbers and potential revenues now that domestic travel is the only way at Long Beach Airport now.

This decision will not be based on niceties and lofty pronouncements from the council dais. Those don’t employ people, pay the bills or allow for charitable donations to the community.

Randy Gordon is president and CEO of the Long Beach Area Chamber of Commerce.


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