While the Los Angeles mayoral candidates battle over the proposed $11 billion expansion of Los Angeles International Airport, a study completed by the RAND Corp. think- tank on the airport's security has gone under the proverbial radar.
Los Angeles World Airports (LAWA), which runs LAX, plus Ontario, Palmdale and Van Nuys airports, commissioned the RAND study in July to determine the most likely types of terrorist attacks at LAX and what can be done now to minimize casualties. The results were released Sept. 24.
One of the deadliest types of attacks at LAX, according to the study, would be a bomb in the check-in (ticketing) area or curbside near the taxi pickups. Passengers there haven't gone through any security checkpoints and they are usually crowded together in lines. RAND found that a 5 percent increase in airport check-in and security screening staff could cut casualties in this type of attack by 75 percent.
RAND wrote: "Substantial reduction of lines can be implemented immediately with small changes to airline and TSA staffing policies. This is our strongest recommendation."
Despite the fact that RAND's changes could be made immediately and the report was released months before the holiday travel period officially began, LAWA had no comment this week on whether they've acted on the recommendation. In the meantime, LAX is expected to handle about 2.8 million passengers between Dec. 17 and Jan. 2.
To its credit, the Transportation Safety Agency (TSA) has opened 12 new screening lanes at LAX for the holidays. But why would a terrorist bother to walk all the way to the security queue when he could detonate a bomb just inside the front door near ticketing, where there are fewer guards and bigger crowds? In 2002, a shooting at LAX's El Al ticket counter took place outside the security checkpoint
So what has LAWA done to convince the airlines to hire more personnel and speed up the lines as RAND recommended? Apparently, the answer is up in the air.
On a Mission
It's fairly common to see progressive groups blasting the Bush administration's efforts to weave faith-based programs into government. It's far more unusual to see these groups battling a Democratic senator.
Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif) introduced a bill recently signed into law (H.R. 1446) that will grant the California Missions Foundation (CMF) $10 million in federal money to repair and restore the 21 Spanish missions in the state. Americans United for the Separation of Church and State (AU) is suing to stop the legislation.
AU says 19 of the 21 missions are still functioning Catholic churches with active congregations. In essence, the churches would receive millions of taxpayer dollars to renovate their places of worship.
CMF said the missions are "historically significant for reasons that have little to do with Catholicism," noting that it's already mandatory for fourth-graders in California public schools to study the buildings.
AU said it doesn't doubt the historical significance of the missions, adding that if they were simply museums, there would be no problem with the grant.
"If in fact the control [of the buildings] went to the government and not the church officials, that would make a difference," AU Executive Director Barry Lynn told The Journal.
Boxer and CMF are defending the grant as a secular pursuit, even though the Los Angeles County Seal debacle earlier this year revealed that there is a wealth of public support for maintaining public religious icons in California.
But just as happened during the county seal debate, it's likely that mission proponents will see no contradiction in defending the importance of a public Christian heritage, while simultaneously saying that the buildings should be interpreted secularly. In fact, CMF's Web site blames the "wrath of secularization" following the Mexican Revolution (and the American occupation of California) for causing the missions to fall into ruin in the first place.
For more historical context on the nature of these buildings and their proselytizing purpose, a quick reference to the California Native American Heritage Commission is in order: "Despite romantic portraits of California missions, they were essentially coercive religious labor camps organized primarily to benefit the colonizers."
As of yet, no date has been set for the lawsuit.
Mayoral Race Quotes
The lively and informal Dec. 21 mayoral debate, sponsored by the League of Conservation Voters, allowed the candidates to jump into a question at any time. The candidates generally agreed with each other on most of the issues, spending more time blasting away at personal character issues. Some quotes:
Bob Hertzberg: "I'm just flabbergasted at the proposal for an $11 billion airport -- [a] building where you've got one ingress and one egress. If your purpose was to try to eliminate traffic or to avoid a terrorist threat, this is about the dumbest thing anybody could have done."
State Sen. Richard Alarcon (D-Van Nuys): "I stood up to Mayor [Richard] Riordan when he wanted to privatize DWP and sell it to Enron. I think we all know that would've been a disaster."
City Councilman Antonio Villaraigosa: "We need to get the Red Line to go down Wilshire Boulevard all the way to ocean. We need to connect the Green Line to LAX and down Lincoln Boulevard to the Expo line. We need to connect the Red Line in North Hollywood to the Metrolink in Sylmar. And if you elect me mayor, that's what I'm going to do."
City Councilman Bernard Parks: "I am the only candidate that has proposed an alternative to the [LAX plan] that was adopted unanimously by the Board of Supervisors -- The mayor has an answer for everything but a solution to nothing."
Mayor James Hahn: "Violent crime is down. Housing production has doubled. We're changing the direction of the Port of L.A. [with] new technologies to plug ships into electric power [and], I stopped construction of a dirty new coal plant."
Upcoming debates: Jan. 11, 7:30 p.m., Temple Judea, 5429 Lindley Ave., Tarzana; Jan. 13, 7:30 p.m., Temple Beth Am, 1039 S. La Cienega Blvd., Los Angeles.