Ontario Airport dispute: City of Ontario to sue LA over airport control after talks break down

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The city of Ontario is moving forward with its lawsuit against the city of Los Angeles over control of the Inland Empire airport.

"The lawsuit is going full guns ahead," Roy Goldberg, an attorney for the city of Ontario, told KPCC.

The suit was on hold for the last couple of months as the two cities agreed to try and have talks toward reaching an out-of-court settlement. But that failed.

"At the end of the day, nothing happened." Goldberg said. "The parties were not able to settle." Judge Gloria Conner Trask said in court that she was "sorry the time was not more fruitful."

Attorneys for the city of Los Angeles declined to comment after leaving Riverside County Superior Court.

Lawyers for Ontario say a lot is at stake for their clients, including jobs and economic development for the region.

"Anybody sufficiently east of downtown L.A. should care when there's no longer an Ontario option." Goldberg said. "That's who will be affected by this."

Right now, under a nearly 50 year-old agreement, the city of Los Angeles controls the airport in Ontario through the agency L.A. World Airports.

Ontario accuses L.A. of willful neglect, failing to provide the marketing juice and financial incentives to keep passengers coming and airlines flying out of the airport that has served people in the region east of L.A. County.

The number of passengers flying in and out of Ontario International Airport has dropped by more than 40 percent since 2007.

"Why is important for Ontario to control their own airport? Because at some point there will no longer be an airport," Goldberg said. "You can’t go from 7 million passengers down to 3.9 million down to 2 million or what ever its going to be and expect airlines to continue to serve the airport," he said.

"If you do the math, the concern here is it will die on the vine," Goldberg added.

Officials with L.A. World Airports have said the decline of passengers and service at Ontario airport is directly linked to the financial crisis. LAWA officials issued a written statement saying they released a report more than one year ago outlining conditions under which the agency would "consider a potential transfer" of control over Ontario Airport.

“However, LAWA will only consider such a transfer in exchange for fair compensation for assets transferred and reasonable protections for airport workers, including City of Los Angeles employees,”  said Sean Burton, president of the Board of Airport Commissioners, in a written statement.

Lawyers for Ontario said the city of Los Angeles is only trying to promote its own airport, LAX. "Ontario is not only an unloved step child in this equation but frankly is perceived as a competitor," said Goldberg.

Attorneys for Ontario say they expect to go to trial toward the end of this year.

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