LOS ANGELES — The commission appointed to advise the Board of Supervisors on management, operations and issues involving Los Angeles County’s five General Aviation airports will launch its first meeting of 2023 with a new face, a change in officers and unfinished business lingering for a year or more.
A review of past meeting agendas presented by executives of the Aviation Division of the County Public Works Department for commission meetings contain examples of repetitive information going back for months and years with little or no progress or resolution.
For example, minutes of the January 2022 meeting reported the Aviation Division, “would reach out to airport associations in upcoming months to initiate and develop a marketing plan for all county airports.”
As of the end of the year, the promised marketing plan failed to materialize, along with a companion project to rebuild the county airports’ long outdated presence in cyberspace. Online searches for L.A. County-owned airport reports, statistical data and resources deliver content not updated for years.
One thing did happen quickly in a holiday season political shakeup.
Second District County Supervisor Holly J. Mitchell appointed Justine Jordan as airports commissioner for Compton/Woodley Airport, ousting 29-year Commissioner Clinton Simmons, an active member of the community and commercial pilot deeply involved in numerous community affiliations for 45 years. Jordan’s appointment came in the Dec. 20 board meeting. She will assume her duties at the January organizational session in which County Airports commission officers will take their positions.
Chairing the commission will be Christina Gaspupei. Vice Chair will be Ryan Antoon, and Secretary will be Peter Amundson. Each county supervisor appoints two commissioners to represent the interests of two airports in his or her district. The 10 commissioners are, by district: 1st — Forouzan Golshani and Gabriel Perez; 2nd — Dennis C Lord an Justine Johnson; 3rd — Christina Pascucci and Ryan Antoon; 4th — Curt Castagna and Jeff Mort; 5th — Harvey Holloway and Peter Amundson.
Since the county’s imposition of COVID-19 restrictions on public gatherings, the Board of Supervisors has decreed that all county commission meetings continue to be held virtually until the supervisors resume sessions in person. Public Commission meetings were previously held rotationally at each of the five county-operated airports. The Airports Advisory Commission typically meets on the last Wednesday of the month, except in July and December. Meeting times vary from midmorning to early evening. Although posted on the website, dates, times and locations are subject to change. Call 626-300-4602 to confirm information.
The five county-owned airports — Bracket Field in La Verne, Compton/Woodley Airport in Compton, San Gabriel Valley Airport in El Monte, General William J. Fox Airfield in Lancaster, and Whiteman Airport in Pacoima, are all among the county’s few airports dedicated to what the Federal Aviation Administration calls General Aviation, places where flight schools train aviators, private planes can be based and serviced, and emergency and law enforcement can be based to protect life and property. Part of every airports mission is also enriching its service area’s economic prosperity through job creation and business investment.
And protecting, preserving, maintaining and growing all of that is in the mission statement of the commission, or was until recent years when multiple levels of government began sucking the joy out of it through regulations at cross-purposes.
Consider that GA airports get no revenue from the county government that owns them, are regulated by not only the FAA, but also the California Department of Transportation, the Civil Aeronautics Board and the Environmental Protection Agency and assorted local departments. And the county-owned GA airports are under management of an aviation office of the county Public Works Department. At the end of day, the county airfields are expected to show a healthy bottom line by applying for government grants fundraisers and proceeds from rental rates and fees charged to airport users.
Accuracy of the foregoing paragraph is open to debate because the content comes from nervous people within the general aviation community, most of whom preferred anonymity. A notable exception is Clinton Simmons, an outspoken critic of political meddling and bureaucratic inefficiency. He traces his ouster to having questioned the wisdom of the county’s cancellation of a contract for private sector airports management, and for criticizing outcomes under Department of Public Works control.
Airports Commission virtual meetings typically last under two hours, with DPW Airports Division executives delivering routine month-over-month statistical data, and updates on pending projects. Its inaction and delay implicit in the project updates for month after month, and into the following year, that frustrates Simmons. He cites the failure to construct a terminal at Compton, which he says is the only county airport without one.
With its history of flight training schools, Simmons says, “Compton Airport is the cradle of Black aviation west of the Mississippi.”
Minutes from the January 2022 commission meeting reported “projects for the coming year from the Aviation Division (include) Design Phase for the Compton/Woodley Terminal Building.” In that same month, the Airports Advisory Commissioners were advised by former County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl to weigh-in with the FAA in support of her campaign to close Whiteman Airport in Pacoima.
Pre-pandemic, when public meetings rotated among the county airfields, people in the local community could ask commissioners and staff questions face to face, making their views, comments and complaints public. Under the virtual meetings, public comment is still possible, but with a smaller audience, usually in low double-digits.
That isn’t to say the general aviation community can’t be heard. Late last year, Aerotech News reported a revolt by private aviators and airport tenants over the process the county used to decide on raising rental rates and fees. The outcome of that issue, like so much of what comes to the commission, is still circling the management’s offices.
Minutes from the virtual meetings don’t report the topics addressed from viewers.
Officials contacted for this report expressed mixed reactions, with some seeing nothing amiss in the process, content or outcomes.
The commission’s next virtual meeting is scheduled for 10 a.m., Jan. 25. The meeting agenda will be published on Jan. 19 and will be available at https://dpw.lacounty.gov/avi/airports/aviationcommission.aspx. The link for the virtual meeting is not available at this time, but will be included in the agenda.