$4 Million Slated for LAX Public Relations Prompts Questions

LAX construction. | Photo: Moto@Club4AG/Flickr/Creative Commons License

The Los Angeles City Council voted unanimously today to assert power over the Board of Airport Commissioners' decision to spend $3.8 million on contracts for public outreach.

On an 11-0 vote, the council agreed to assert the body's rarely-used power to scrutinize and possibly overrule the decision of the otherwise autonomous commission that oversees Los Angeles International Airport, L.A./Ontario International Airport, and Van Nuys Airport.

The board earlier this month approved three-year contracts with three firms to craft a public media campaign, produce video, and make media buys.

The campaign is intended to alert travelers and residents about potential impacts as the $4 billion LAX modernization project moves into a new public phase. Much of the work in recent years has involved construction on the new Tom Bradley International Terminal, out of the public's way. But work is now under way on replacing terminal facades, escalators and elevators -- construction that will close off lanes around the airport's horseshoe roadways and affect other public areas.

Councilmen Dennis Zine and Bill Rosendahl expressed doubts about whether the spending and outreach is necessary, and concerns about why the contracts went to firms with headquarters outside of Los Angeles. The firms are located in Santa Monica, Fountain Valley, and San Diego.

"Why are we spending the money ... on firms outside the city of Los Angeles?" Zine asked. "Yeah, San Diego's a nice place, but the fact of the matter is we need to spend that money in our backyard. This (action) puts the breaks on it. Until we get those answers, the breaks are on."

The council members also took issue with the contracts being approved on a so-called consent vote with no debate or discussion.

Airport officials say the contracts were awarded after a competitive public process that saw about a half-dozen firms, including Los Angeles-based ones, submit proposals for each of the various contracts.

Mary Grady, Los Angeles World Airports' managing director of media and public relations, said a good portion of the $1.55 million for media buys will be spent at media organizations in the city.

"Communicating the transformative changes taking place at LAX addresses the Board of Airport Commission's firm direction to create and execute a multi-year strategic and coordinated LAX Capital Improvement public education program," Grady said.

"It is important that we communicate the construction impacts, while also building a sense of anticipation for those who have been demanding an efficient airport that meets today's travelers' needs with more modern terminals, improved runway safety, more places to charge phones/laptops, free Wi-Fi and more dining and shopping options," she said.

"While we are building the airport the public is asking for, it will be complicated to navigate LAX over the next several years. Why wouldn't we tell them all about the more than 25 capital improvement projects that are creating tens of thousands of jobs, without using any taxpayer dollars from the city's general fund?"

The issue will now go to the council's Trade, Commerce, and Tourism Committee, where airport officials will be called to testify about the necessity of the works and how the contracts were awarded. The council has three weeks to decide whether to veto the board's decision.

"It's the right thing to do because we're about transparency and open government," Rosendahl said. "The more we know ... the more effective I can be in my job."

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