Ontario Rolling Dice With Appeal Of Judge’s Ruling That Upheld Airport Pact With LA

(April 7) As that city’s lawyer vowed in January, Ontario’s legal team filed an appeal with the California Fourth District Court of Appeal on Tuesday challenging a Riverside County Superior Court judge’s ruling upholding Ontario’s agreements with Los Angeles giving the larger city control and ownership of Ontario International Airport.
In January Riverside Superior Court Judge Gloria Connor Trask issued two tentative rulings that the 1967 joint-powers agreement between Ontario and Los Angeles that gave Los Angeles managerial and administrative control of the airport and the 1985 vote by the Ontario City Council that deeded the airport to Los Angeles were valid. On February 26, Trask confirmed those rulings. On March 19, Trask signed an order to that effect which was put into the court record.
Ontario, through its law firm, Washington, D.C.-based Sheppard Mullin Richter & Hampton, maintained in court papers filed last year that those agreements are not binding. Trask said Ontario’s opportunity to rescind the transfer of the airport once existed but elapsed in 1989 because of the statute of limitations.
In January, Andre Cronthall, Sheppard Mullin Richter & Hampton’s lead attorney on the case, told the Sentinel he believed an appeal of the case is inevitable, no matter how the case is hashed out in Trask’s court. He said he anticipates Los Angeles will appeal the case if the matter is adjudicated in Ontario’s favor, just as, he said, Ontario will not capitulate if it loses at the Riverside County Superior Court level.
“Whatever Judge Trask ends up doing, there is a good likelihood the court of appeal will end up ruling on most, if not all, of the issues being tried,” Cronthall said in January.
Cronthall made good on that prediction on April 7, when he filed a petition to the Fourth District Court of Appeal in Riverside which asserted that a vote of the residents of Ontario was required in 1985 in order for the airport to be given to Los Angeles. Trask’s ruling that the elapsing of the statute of limitations now prevents that transfer from being overturned is in error. “A statute of limitations cannot make valid that which is void,” according to the petition.
Ontario entered into a joint powers agreement with Los Angeles in 1967 to have the megalopolis use its department of airports run Ontario Airport. In 1985, after all of the criteria spelled out in that original joint powers agreement were met, Ontario’s city council, with then-mayor Robert Ellingwood absent, voted 4-0 to deed the airport to Los Angeles at no consideration. For several decades, Ontario was well satisfied with that arrangement. Things have changed, however.
Under Los Angeles’s management of Ontario International, the airport prospered, with its ridership increasing from less than 200,000 in 1967 to 7.2 million in 2007. Over that forty year period, Los Angeles made substantial improvements to the airport, including paving its gravel parking lot, laying down a second, entirely new east-to-west runway over its obsolete northeast-to-southwest runway, modernizing its existing east-to-west runway, including the widening of taxiways and the addition of storm drains, modernizing its control tower, and constructing two ultra-modern terminals at a cost of $270 million, augmented with a world class concourse.
With the economic downturn of 2007, however, air travel in general declined and over the next six years ridership at Ontario International shrunk to just over four million per year. Meanwhile, Los Angeles, which had embarked on a modernization effort at Los Angeles International Airport in 2006, continued with that effort. Passenger traffic into Los Angeles zoomed to astronomical levels, leading to the perception that Ontario was being given short shrift by Los Angeles. In 2011, Ontario began a campaign to take back ownership and control over the airport. and that campaign has grown ever more vitriolic.
Los Angeles officials have hunkered down in the face of the lawsuit and the accompanying campaign being carried out by the city of Ontario to convince the public that Ontario deserves to reassert ownership over the airport. Meanwhile, Los Angeles’s lawyers are pursuing a steady legal strategy of attempting to have the case dismissed.

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