Posted: 04/14/2009 10:34:36 PM PDT
LONG BEACH - The Long Beach Area Chamber of Commerce has started a letter-writing campaign to put pressure on city officials and keep JetBlue at Long Beach Airport.
The effort is in response to news this month that JetBlue CEO Dave Barger isn't happy with the lack of progress on terminal improvements at the airport and might consider leaving Long Beach. City officials say the improvement project, which also includes a new parking garage, has been slowed by public opposition and lawsuits.
But Chamber President and CEO Randy Gordon said the city needs to move things along, and quickly.
"We want to send out the message that we're very concerned about JetBlue, and we certainly do not want to lose a great airline, an award- winning airline, that has made a substantial investment here over the years and has been an economic driver for this community," Gordon said Tuesday.
JetBlue has been flying out of Long Beach since 2000, employs 600 people locally and is the largest airline at the airport.
On Monday, Gordon posted a statement outlining the chamber's concerns with a link to a form letter that he hopes chamber members and the the public will sign in support of city action.
The statement and letter are available at www.longbeachadvocacy.biz.
Gordon said he already has received 132 letters, and not all of them are from chamber members or even Long Beach residents. Some are from area Long Beach Airport users who simply want JetBlue to stay, he said.
Gordon said he plans to send the letters to Mayor Bob Foster and the City Council before next Tuesday's meeting.
The council isn't necessarily at fault, he said, but action is needed now.
"We're not trying to place blame here because we don't know exactly where the blame goes," Gordon said.
However, some of that blame could be leveled at the Long Beach Unified School District and its Parent-Teacher Association, which filed lawsuits in 2006 contesting the city's environmental impact report on the planned airport improvements. The two groups said the report didn't take into account the effect of airport noise on nearby schools.
A judge ruled over a year ago in favor of the city, but the PTA appealed the ruling. The case will be heard April 27, after which, city officials have indicated, the airport improvements should be able to begin.
However, how the terminal improvements would be funded is still up in the air, as airport officials have been reluctant to raise passenger fees. A parking fee hike already has been implemented to pay for the new parking garage.
Gordon recognized these delays have been a factor, but said Barger's comments show there is a real possibility that JetBlue could leave.
"All we know is that this thing has taken a long time," Gordon said.
"We'd just like to see some progress being made."