Ontario, San Bernardino seek takeover of Ontario Airport

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(CNS) – The city of Ontario and San Bernardino County today announced the formation of a new government body aimed at wresting control of L.A. Ontario International Airport from the city of Los Angeles.

The Ontario City Council is expected to approve creation of the Ontario International Airport Authority, Ontario City Manager Chris Hughes said. San Bernardino County Chief Executive Officer Greg Devereaux said the County Board of Supervisors likely will approve the authority’s creation on the following week.

If approved, the new five-member commission would include two Ontario City Council members, one San Bernardino County Supervisor and two community members from the airport’s service area.

Inland Empire city and county government officials long have complained that Los Angeles World Airports — the independent city department that manages ONT, LAX and Van Nuys Airport — neglects the Ontario airport and drives airline traffic to LAX at the expense of Ontario.

The airport’s traffic plunged 37.5 percent in 2011 since it’s peak in 2007 when about 7.2 million passengers used the airport.

LAWA officials have blamed the the decline in travel on the economy, which hit the Inland Empire particularly hard. They also point to more than $500 million in investments at the airport since the late 1990s.

LAWA was not immediately available for comment.

Los Angeles City Administrative Officer Miguel Santana is preparing a report on an independent analysis of transferring ONT from LAWA to local governance.

“Ontario Airport is the most powerful economic engine in the Inland Empire. There is regional consensus that it should be operated by an agency that is responsible and accountable to our residents for its service and performance,” Ontario City Councilman Alan Wapner said.

Citing Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s stated support for a regional approach to air service in Southern California, the Inland Empire officials said they are open to the potential of Los Angeles participating in the new authority.

However, in February, Villaraigosa and L.A. City Councilman Bill Rosendahl told a delegation of Inland Empire civic leaders that included the mayors of Riverside, Corona, Jurupa Valley and the president of the Greater Riverside Chamber of Commerce, that Los Angeles is not willing to sell the airport under the current economic climate.

“I have a fiduciary responsibility to the taxpayers of Los Angeles,” Villaraigosa said after the meeting.

The new authority will review the development of an airport business plan, receive briefings on talks with Los Angeles over the airport’s transfer and review options for airport management.

“We feel strongly that the public will be well served by an airport managed, developed and marketed under the control of a Joint Powers Authority responsive to the air service market,”  San Bernardino County Supervisor and former Ontario Mayor Gary Ovitt said.

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