Key report recommends LA explore selling Ontario airport

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Los Angeles’ chief administrative officer is recommending that the city enter into negotiations over the potential sale of Ontario airport to the city of Ontario and/or other interested parties.

In a report today to Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and the L.A. City Council, CAO Miguel Santana called Ontario airport an “important regional transportation asset,” and argued that selling it, coupled with an “innovative approach” focused on developing a new business model for the airport, Ontario “could become a stronger driver of economic growth in the Los Angeles region.”

Santana recommended establishing a negotiating team made up of him and representatives from Los Angeles World Airports, which currently runs Ontario, along with LAX and Van Nuys Airport. He said that team should “explore a potential acquisition” of the airport by the city of Ontario and/or its newly formed Ontario International Airport Authority (OIAA), or another regional authority.

Ontario has been pressing its case to take control of the airport, arguing that new leadership is needed to reverse the decline in passenger traffic – from 7.2 million in 2007 to 4.5 million in 2011. Ontario has blamed part of that decline on LAWA mismanagement -- a charge LAWA rejects. In an effort to strengthen its negotiating position, Ontario joined with San Bernardino County last month to form the OIAA, which would run the airport should Ontario gain control.

In a statement issued on behalf of the city of Ontario, the OIAA, and a coalition of governments and others backing a transfer, Ontario City Councilman Alan Wapner said “we accept and are pleased with” Santana’s report. “We look forward to prompt and meaningful negotiations leading to the transfer of the airport,” Wapner said.

"Los Angeles World Airports has always maintained that LA Ontario International Airport is a valuable asset to the city and region," LAWA Executive Director Gina Marie Lindsey said in a statement. "We are pleased the CAO's report validates that perspective, encourages thoughtful discussion and a potential path forward. We look forward to meeting with the newly formed Ontario International Airport Authority."

Before any negotiations might begin, Santana recommended that L.A. reject a $246 million “conceptual proposal” put forward last December by Ontario that included present and future cash payments, along with assumption of the airport’s debt. He concluded that part of the proposed deal would likely violate Federal Aviation Administration rules and conflict with the L.A. city charter.

Santana is scheduled to present his report to the L.A. city council’s trade and commerce committee on Tuesday.

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