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Fight to control Ontario International Airport heads to court



The City of Ontario has filed a legal claim to gain control over the L.A./Ontario International Airport. (L.A./ Ontario International Airport. Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)
The City of Ontario has filed a legal claim to gain control over the L.A./Ontario International Airport. (L.A./ Ontario International Airport. Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)
Stock Photo David McNew/Getty Images

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A Superior Court judge could rule Friday on whether decades-old agreements that give the city of Los Angeles control over Ontario International Airport (ONT) should be thrown out or fixed.

The city of Ontario has sought to regain ownership of the Inland Empire airport for years. Last year, it took that quest to court. Its lawsuit against the city of Los Angeles says a 1967 Joint Powers Agreement and a 1985 deed transfer that gave L.A. ownership of ONT should be rescinded, or at least revised to include an end date.

Passenger traffic at Ontario Airport fell 40 percent, from 7.2 million passengers in 2007 to nearly 4 million in 2012.  Ontario officials are quick to point out that it wasn't just due to the recession. They accuse Los Angeles World Airports (LAWA), the agency that oversees Ontario and LAX, of mismanagement and neglect.

Attorney Andre Cronthal, who represents the city of Ontario, says LAWA slashed ONT's marketing and advertising budget and imposed a 15 percent administrative fee that made it too costly for airlines to operate at Ontario. 

"LAWA, while spending billions of dollars on making LAX more attractive for international and other travel has done the opposite at ONT and left ONT to die on the vine," Cronthal told KPCC. 

LAWA officials have said they pushed hard to attract airlines to Ontario, but the legal discovery process has brought to light remarks in executive emails, suggesting a disdain for the airport, as well as the Inland Empire.  In one message, the Chief Operating Officer of LAWA, Stephen Martin refers to the "inbred Inland Empire."  

In a statement published in the Riverside Press Enterprise, LAWA says comments made by executives “continue to be taken completely out of context, and are not within the totality of the entire case.”

During a July 7 appearance on KPCC's "Air Talk," Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said that for the right price, his city would be willing to turn the airport over to Ontario. 

"I don't want to make a single dollar off of Ontario," Garcetti said in response to a listener's social media posting. "If you make us whole, go for it and take this airport... It is kind of an accident of history that the city of Los Angeles owns the Ontario Airport." 

So far, the right price hasn’t been found, so the legal battle continues.