Late Tuesday, the Long Beach City Council voted 6-3 to move ahead with a feasibility study for a federal customs facility to allow international travel at the municipally owned airport.
The action followed about three hours of, at times heated, debate.
JetBlue sent a letter in February to city officials stating that it would not increase its total number of flights allowed under the city’s noise ordinance.
Robert C. Land, the airline’s senior vice president of government affairs and associate general counsel, reiterated that position Tuesday.
“All we’re asking for tonight is to simply begin the exploration process, to gather the facts through a thorough fact-finding mission,” Land said.
Public comments for and against a customs facility were closely split.
Terry Jensen, a former Long Beach Redevelopment Agency board member, raised the specter of disgruntled JetBlue competitors locked out of potential international flight slots challenging the noise ordinance.
American Airlines in 2002 threatened legal action against the airport and city in a bitter battle over flight slots before settling with the city the year after.
“If you allow this facility, we’re almost guaranteeing more conflict,” Jensen said. “There is so much to lose and so little to gain if you make the wrong decisions.”
Another resident, Kevin McAchren, spoke in support of a customs facility, saying international flights would be a good thing for Long Beach, one of the most ethnically diverse cities in the United States.
“I think linking Long Beach airport to Mexico, to Central American destinations is a great thing,” McAchren said.
Some neighborhood advocates accused officials of ordering an unnecessary study since an airport inquiry in 2013 found that such a facility could be financially feasible but is potentially risky for the city.
City Manager Pat West said the “quick study” was preliminary and not as extensive as what staff would conduct to bring the issue to a council vote.
Before the decision, Councilman Al Austin disagreed with colleagues that approving a study does not necessarily mean they will eventually approve JetBlue’s request.
“Getting more information is opening the door,” Austin said. “It’s the next step.”
Austin voted no along with Councilman Daryl Supernaw and Councilman Roberto Uranga.
(Eric Bradley - Long Beach Press Telegram)