Baca dips into ONT airport matter

May 18, 2012

Rep. Joe Baca has introduced a bill to expedite the transfer of L.A./Ontario International Airport to local control.

The Transfer Control of Ontario Airport Now Act gives Los Angeles World Airports, which manages ONT, 60 days to turn over operations and ownership.

It also calls on the Federal Aviation Administration to withhold all funding from LAWA if no action is taken within the first 60 days after the bill's enactment.

"If LAWA is not going to give our airport a fair shot at success, then we must do everything in our power to return Ontario to local control," said Baca, D-San Bernardino.

A commission also would be created to determine a fair market value for the sale of ONT.

LAWA would then be forced to sell the airport to Ontario at the commission's determined, fair market price, according to the bill.

"LAWA's continued mismanagement of Ontario airport has led to exorbitant operating costs, large reductions in flight traffic, weakened security, and a significant loss of jobs and revenue for our local Inland economies," Baca said.

Earlier in the week, speaking to a group in the Inland Empire, LAWA Executive Director Gina Marie warned those pushing for Ontario to regain operations of the airport.

"Local control, in and of itself, is not going to be a panacea," she said.

ONT saw about 4.2 million passengers in 2011, figures not seen since the late 1980s. It's a drastic decline from the peak traffic of 7.2 million in 2007.

Addressing the continued decline in ONT passenger traffic figures, Lindsey said airlines are retreating from smaller hub facilities like ONT.

Introduction of the legislation was news to Ontario Councilman Alan Wapner, who has been the city's liaison on the issue.

"We've very supportive of what the congressmen is trying to do," he said.

Wapner noted that Baca has backed Ontario throughout the entire process but said he looks forward to speaking to the congressman and updating him on Ontario's latest efforts.

Baca's bill may contradict current efforts by Ontario. Officials are waiting on a report from a Los Angeles City Council subcommittee, which will include the city's administrative officer analyzing Ontario's proposal to regain control of the airport.

The motion by the subcommittee asked the city's administrative officer, Miguel Santana, to determine the fair market value of ONT as well as the process to sell or transfer ONT to Ontario.

A report and recommendation are expected to be completed in June.

ONT has seen a drop of nearly 3 million passengers since 2007, causing a $495 million economic hit to the Inland Empire. The decline at ONT in the past four years has also meant a loss of 9,250 jobs to the region.

"Returning Ontario airport to local control means more jobs, more tax revenues, and more economic development for the Inland Empire," Baca said. "We must act now, or else our area will miss out on a vital economic driver due to LAWA's complacency."

This isn't the first legislative bill pushing for local control of ONT.

Last year, state Sen. Bob Dutton, R-Rancho Cucamonga, introduced a bill that would authorize transferring control of ONT from the city of Los Angeles to a regional airport authority. The bill has since been tabled.

Baca not only supported Dutton's bill, but he also penned a letter to Los Angeles officials expressing his support for transferring operations and management of ONT to local control.