Per Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors motion on December 8, 2020, the County has formed a Community Advisory Committee (CAC) made up of leaders and stakeholders from the community and Airport to provide input throughout the process.
The CAC members will use their local insight and knowledge to understand community concerns and identify new opportunities, such as the creation of local jobs, community beneficial uses, and dedicated open space at the airport.
Two sections of the charge are as follows:
- Engage local stakeholders, including but not limited to, Councilwoman Monica Rodriguez’s Office, community-based organizations such as Pacoima Beautiful, residents, businesses, and other government partners to undertake a community-driven master plan for Whiteman Airport that maintains the property’s primary function as an airport but provides for the creation of local jobs, community beneficial uses, and open space opportunities.
- Conduct appropriate environmental studies to assess the airport’s potential environmental and health risks.
The keywords that witnesses proclaim that were not acknowledged by all of the participants are “…maintains the property’s primary function as an airport…”
Several times throughout the evening, participants referred to panel members in attendance as belonging to one of two sides, those that want the airport to remain open, and those who want it closed. Over the last 18 months, there appears to be no evidence that there was sufficient guidance to assure that the goal as charged was adhered to, and several in attendance assessed that from the start those appointed to the committee were hand chosen because of pre-existing bias.
District Director for City Councilwoman Monic Rodriquez, Rocio Hernandez stated clearly on Thursday evening that “Whiteman Airport’s purpose is that of recreation and leisure. It is not one of necessity. So comparing it to vehicles & trains is really kinda uncalled for, um, when our families do rely on vehicles & trains out f necessity and not luxury.”
That opinion was directly opposed by LA County Firebase Chief Robert Gaylor, who later explained that with regard to emergency response that the airport is very important to the state, regional, and local governments, and provides an airbridge should surface infrastructure be challenged by any catastrophic event. Specifically, it is not important for just Pacoima, but also for the entire San Fernando Valley and beyond, protecting residents from fire and catastrophe.
CAC member Bobby Arias – Champions in Service, associated with the development of Pacoima Plaza, who credited the Chief with saving his home three times, asked the Fire chief if the larger acreage that the airport occupies was necessary for emergency services as his firebase size occupies just a small slice of the overall property. Mr. Arias implied that the planes flying in and out were not really needed and that the larger parcel could be home to development. The fire chief responded very clearly that the airport was important, as mentioned above, and in addition, should the air traffic control tower be closed, the airspace protection needed for his service would also vanish, and emergency departures would then be dependent upon Burbank ATC, which would be more cumbersome, and no doubt delayed by other competing area flight arrivals and departures.
It was thought the fire chief’s professional opinion was important as clearly expressed to the gentleman who represented himself as preferring an education center to be constructed on the airport land as opposed to its current use as an airport. Mr. Arias chose to ignore the comments of the fire chief and later voted to close the airport. He argued monies would be available and secured by politicians for development, others argued that there are plenty of adjacent spaces that are available, that are not part of an important infrastructure network, and don’t currently employ hundreds of people, collect millions in property taxes, provide other valuable community services, and spread economic benefit all around the Pacoima community.
The notion of keeping the airport open or closing the airport predominated the discussion.
Community residents were portrayed as victimized by the airport and serious grievances need to be addressed by LA County which was severely criticized by the CEO of Pacoima Beautiful. Airport non-profits and businesses were also severely criticized for allegedly not reaching out to the community and sharing resources. Examples of attempted community outreach were given by David Kolstad, Jeanne Fenimore, and Lisa Fusano, and when seeking assistance from Pacoima Beautiful they were denied that assistance. Even attendance at a promoted Pacoima Beautiful public event was denied to a polite and passive airport supporter who by report was turned away.
It was pointed out that every neighborhood council in CD7 has voted to support the airport. Petition signers have replied about 4 to 1 in favor of the airport, but in spite of these facts, Pacoima Beautiful would prefer to see the aviation commission include members with no aviation experience, and the airport closed. They favor L A County paying for a host of mitigating services without financial assistance from the FAA for a large list of city residents living in some cases, right up to the edge of the runway, judged safe by the city zoning regulation at the time of building construction, but now alleged by Pacoima Beautiful to be unsafe, and the cause of trauma for the residents that chose to live there. Their opinion is that the once remotely located airport should be held liable for alleged noise, lead pollution, and safety risk incurred by the now-present city residents and businesses.
Regarding noise, the study that was completed revealed that there were 335 noncompatible locations. Community input related that the loud semi-trucks that travel on San Fernando Road were not included in that study, nor were the Union Pacific freight train and Metro link train, both considerably louder than the planes from Whiteman Airport, but neither is being criticized by Pacoima Beautiful. See the Noise Study results Here.
Something that Fire Chief Robert Gaylor referred to, but maybe not realized by the nonflying community, is that should the airport close, the air traffic tower would also close and the currently protected airspace immediately above the ground up to about 3000 feet would also go away, and instead of regulated flight tracks and altitudes that aircraft must fly now, no such restrictions will be in place and that would allow for lower flying aircraft and possibly many diverse flight tracks.
Regarding Pollution, assertions were made that lead poisoning has affected residents and that studies need to be done as several in the community fault the airport for their asthma. There has been no proof of the assertion that 100LL avgas is responsible for lead poisoning regarding Pacoima residents, or even anybody nationwide. Community input substantiated that unleaded avgas distribution would be available soon, and Ms. Alderson from Vista Aviation revealed that she has already purchased the permits necessary (STCs) to use it in their aircraft. It was also pointed out that the aviation future will also include electric aircraft.
Pacoima Beautiful states that per a study in 2009, lead was found at Whiteman Airport. They don’t however tout that per the same EPA study, lead in greater quantities was found at a local freeway location.
Nor does Pacoima Beautiful request banning dairy products and certain meats as it is estimated that cattle are responsible for 220 trillion pounds of methane a year. They do via their motion suggest banning 100LL avgas, which would result in a tremendous safety risk, and a similar action is already credited as a contributing factor for a fatal accident.
Nor is there any criticism of the large volume of semi-trucks that travel on busy San Fernando Road just parallel to the Whiteman runway. On the scale of vehicle polluters semis rank very high. By contrast, although the perception might be that airplanes are large polluters, the opposite is true.
Regarding safety risk, the third pillar used to support airport closure, because the pilot of an accident airplane suffering from engine trouble, rather than making a safe preemptive landing as is instructed, the pilot tried to reach the runway, and was unsuccessful. Consequently, the airport is being blamed for what was a pilotage error, and the airport has become an innocent victim of less-than-accurate information. Blaming the airport is like blaming a gas station located down the block that the car with no gas is trying to coast to, but has an accident prior to getting to the station because of restricted steering and braking.
The fact is there have been no fatalities suffered on the ground from Whiteman Air traffic, and that vehicular traffic accidents and their associated deaths in number make flight accidents look like a pea-sized dot when compared to each other. Yet, no one is touting the idea of closing San Fernando Road, or any of the local freeways for safety study projects.
Attendees at this final meeting were presented by certain CAC members inaccurate information.
Rocio Hernandez, district director L A Council member Monica Rodriquez stated that: “Whiteman Airport operates 24 hours a day, 7 days a week with little regulation or oversight. There are other nearby airports like Van Nuys which was referenced today and Burbank airport which both have operational limitations. They do not operate 24 hours a day 7 days a week.”
It should be noted that all public airports operate with a tremendous number of regulatory requirements and oversight. A glance at Title 14 of the code of Federal Regulations will quickly confirm that, in addition to Title 14 CFR, there are state, county, local, and airport management regulations. Also, it should be noted that both Van Nuys Airport and Burbank operate 24/7.
Furthermore, during the meeting Chief Gaylor described the emergency services that are at the Whiteman firebase. In addition, the CAP during past meetings has been referred to, and they too provide emergency services.
Yet Ms. Hernandez stated, “that there has been no clear understanding of what, if any, emergency operations are taking place within the airport.” Visual evidence is easily seen from the main entrance parking lot of the clearly marked CAP building, and from the driveway of the sizeable Firebase.
Ms. Hernandez also “wanted to stress that the income is generated within the airport must stay within the airport boundaries, um, the airport cannot even repair a sidewalk adjacent to the property’s boundaries.” She did not mention that the airport belongs to L A County, and apparently, she feels L A County should shoulder L A City’s responsibilities.
Ms. Hernandez feels that “our families do rely on vehicles and trains out of necessity and not a luxury.”
The point that some make is that though the airport offers emergency services, community services, and College opportunities as well, plus other options, those parameters per Ms. Hernandez are luxuries.
Contradictions with some details arose during the CAC pursuit, but they didn’t influence the primary messaging. Veronica Padilla-Campos CEO of Pacoima Beautiful stated her position that federal money should not be accessed due to grant strings attached to pay for her very long laundry list of grievances needing mediation. Rather, LA County should pay for the city resident’s improvements. She stated, “I don’t trust the County.” Further, she reiterated that “there is no ulterior motion. There is no developer behind this motion. There is nothing like that.” In her motion, she advocates expanding the number of aviation commissioners. She advocates adding commissioners who have no aviation experience.
Yvonne E. Mariajimenez – Neighborhood Legal Services contributed that federal funds are available to address community grievances on noise and pollution. When the noise study results were released a few meetings ago she seemed disappointed that more noise was not present. She suggested the study be done again. She expressed that as Mr. Arias inferred, emergency services could exist without the airport, contradicting the message that Chief Gaylor delivered.
Ms. Penny Alderson presented some evidence that there might be a relationship between Pacoima Beautiful and developers via a connection wherein during a directed student study Pacoima Beautiful was referred to as the client. Ms. Padilla-Campos denied that, and LACDPW moderator Jessica Padilla-Bowen suggested that they move on. A community caller asserted that there was a connection between Pacoima Beautiful and Aquaria Funding Solutions. In prior meetings, Ms. Padilla-Campos referred to already drawn plans she wanted to introduce depicting the real estate development of Whiteman Airport, though Jessica Padilla-Bowen from LACDPW did not allow them into the discussion stating the charge was to keep the airport open.
Both Ms. Padilla-Campos and Ms. Mariajimenez voted for closure.
Ms. Heron Molina, Council District 7 (Monica Rodriquez) office – stated that “the airport has not done anything to engage the community.” There is overwhelming evidence that this has not been the case, and I personally can attest that the FAA Safety Team Free Pilot Safety seminars held for years at Whiteman Airport sometimes weekly, not only posted community notice online but notice of each event was emailed to over 4,500 area residents.
CAC member Mr. Charles Nelson voted both for a motion to close the airport and for a motion to keep it open.
Three motions were submitted. One by Chares Nelson, Pacoima Neighborhood Watch, One by Veronica Padilla-Campos, and One by Penny Alderson Vista Aviation/Vista Air.
Mr. Nelson’s motion was in favor of keeping the airport open and satisfying a short list of neighborhood grievances. There was not a second for his motion. See the motion here.
Ms. Veronica Padilla-Campos’ motion was to close the airport and included a very long list of items for City residents that the County should pay for, and then subsequently close the airport. Included in her list is a provision calling for the possible return of County land to the Fernandeño Tataviam Band of Mission Indians. This provision evokes troublesome thoughts, not because of the proposed action itself, but because the president of that group also sits on the CAC panel as a voting member, and should the Supervisors accept this motion in full, his band of Mission Indians would stand to financially benefit. See the motion here.
Ms. Penny Alderson’s motion was to continue to keep the airport open, continue to explore community airport relationships, and the mitigation of a long list of grievances that represent many of same issues that have been raised by those with concerns and have expressed an interest in closing the airport. See the motion here.
In summary, there was a year and a half of meetings inspired by one aircraft accident years ago that was not the fault of any Whiteman Airport operation that was used as the fuel for a community panel to be formed via a motion from Former L A County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl, and the inspiration of City Councilwomen Monica Rodriquez whose background includes being an executive for the California Association of Realtors (C.A.R.) where she was responsible for the administration of a multi-million dollar workforce housing trust fund, and the inspiration of Pacoima Beautiful, whose former CEO recently disgraced Nury Martinez, then City Council President, endorsed Ms. Rodriquez for a council seat.
At the end of the 18-month voyage, there was no health study initiated or completed, there was a noise study that showed that out of the many thousands of homes, only 335 would possibly qualify for noise mitigation.
It should be recognized that community input alleged that the participants were hand-picked to predetermine the concluding results, and that some were placing politics over real community interest, not only by selecting those with a preferred bias, but also by selecting some that may not have the ability to properly commit to the CAC obligation over an extended period.
Supporting this notion is the fact that City Councilwoman Monica Rodriquez is represented directly via two members empaneled from her office. Pacoima Beautiful is represented, and two members were initially chosen from Supervisor Kuehl’s office (one remained to date, but abstained from voting – hence, lending more weight to those who did vote). One member from Neighborhood legal services of L A County, a private company, that seemingly marched in lockstep with Pacoima Beautiful was appointed, as were two members from the Pacoima Chamber of Commerce. Then there was the appointment of some that might not be in a sustainable position to commit to the CAC effort.
Regarding the circumstance created when a motion was moved forward that would potentially financially benefit Voting CAC member Rudy Ortega, SCAUWG.ORG notified LACDPW of the appearance of impropriety, and that Mr. Ortega should possibly be directed to recuse himself from voting. No mention of a possible conflict of interest was mentioned during the evening.
Of the CAC members who were qualified to vote four were not present. Mikayeel Khan, Pacoima Neighborhood Council, Jasmine Tuyet Le, student representative, Michelle Rogel, community volunteer, and Eduardo (Eddie) Gonzales, Pacoima Chamber of Commerce, were not present.
The vote went as follows:
Motion #3 Motion #4
Maria Chong-Castillo Abstained Abstained
Rocio Hernandez YES NO
John Hernandez YES NO
Bobby Arias YES NO
Veronica Padilla-Campos YES NO
Yvonne E. Masriajimenez YES NO
Rudy Ortega YES NO
Charles Nelson YES YES
Heron Molina Abstained NO
Jeanne Fenimore NO YES
Penny Alderson NO YES
Robert Gaylor NO YES
SCAUWG.ORG wants to compliment Fire Chief Robert Gaylor for his professionalism. He spoke with pertinent direction and addressed real Air Traffic Control issues, and he spoke with skillful diligence and expertise illustrating the needs of not only the Pacoima community but also his responsibility to serve an entire area with life-saving emergency service. He rose above any political challenge that some might have fallen prey to and spoke with collegian detail making the point that those who opposed the airport were not holding other Pacoima businesses to the same standards that the airport was being criticized for not meeting. Chief Robert Gaylor is a hero.
SCAUWG.ORG also wants to commend Penny Alderson. Ms. Alderson from Vista Aviation and Vista Air truly reached across the aisle and incorporated mature realistic ideas whilst recognizing the outstanding critical comments from those who were most vocal and critical not only of the airport but also of the LA County Dept. of Public Works and L A County who allowed this process to go forward at great expense and allowed the City Council to seemingly subjugate its interests. Ms. Alderson’s motion proves that community consciousness and community benefit was never the goal of those who came to the conference with development plans already loaded, and with their eyes focused elsewhere, as with genuine commitment, she demonstrated that there were unusually good actors sitting with patience at the table.
The L A County of Public Works spent untold hours of commitment and shouldered the extensive costs necessary to produce these in-person and online events. It seemed apparent that they reached for and maintained the highest level of complimentary community procedures. If there is a criticism of the process pursued, it would be that there was not enough attention given to maintaining the charge. It is possible that while trying to be polite these sessions were too often filled with “keep it open” or “close it” arguments. Additionally, CAC positions were not often challenged with opposing views or fact-checked for accuracy.
It certainly appeared that the LACDPW went the extra mile and allowed City Councilmember Monica Rodriquez to offer her anti-airport thesis and her claim of no immediate benefit from the airport for the community. Her appearance as a keynote speaker and not allowing for equal time for a pro-airport speaker at the top of last month’s meeting, which was intended to be the last meeting, was not an occurrence worthy of a salute.
With an understanding of the Brown Act, absent that critical analysis what sometimes appeared to be scripted language that may not have been truthful, or responsive to previous comments was allowed to prevail, instead of being scrutinized and creatively legally addressed.
A closing comment made by one community caller was that CAC panel bias should have been published. SCAUWG.ORG long ago called for those who might potentially benefit, and/or those who have related interests that would benefit from an airport closure to disclose that data much like lobbyists are required to do. I requested that the subject be put on the agenda. It wasn’t.
SCAUWG.ORG is not the only observer to notice that “issue cleansing” may not inspire some to award the blue ribbon that everyone who had hoped to applaud the LACDPW effort wanted to award.
It appears the real winners are those that can read between the lines and become enraged at the unfortunate weaknesses present in the world’s best democratic system. By staying alert perhaps our democracy will be better defended.
The real losers are the residents of the Pacoima community that believe that an important piece of infrastructure, an airport designated as a “reliever” airport necessary for the benefit of the National Airspace System (NAS), and one that serves the greater good for so many L A Basin residents were pitched the notion that only rich people benefit from an airport and that because it is located in neighborhood folks chose to reside in, that airport should benefit them alone. Instead of looking at the immediate benefits realistically, and those that will flourish in the future, those that are short-sighted and believe the interests that are most willing to disguise their efforts to work against the very people they claim to defend, will be faced with a sad and unhappy lesson.
The fact is, should the developers win, should the airport close, should the position that CAC member Rudy Ortega voiced at the meeting occur and “luxury” housing be brought to the land which was once the airport, the area will truly become as one caller referred to; the now present, overbuilt, traffic engulfed area, where once Hughes airport was.
And what will be the result of a similar gentrification movement coming to Pacoima? Every low-income resident that now rents will be forced to move from their homes due to landlords raising their rents, or even tearing down the older residences with possibly soundproofed windows, and erecting new taller buildings, now not subject to obstruction clearance limitations that the FAA instrument approach and departure routes once mandated.