RIVERSIDE -- A small group of business and community leaders gathered Tuesday night to hear a candid discussion about the future of L.A./Ontario International Airport from two area politicians very connected to the issue - Ontario Councilman Alan Wapner and Riverside Mayor Ron Loveridge.
Wapner and Loveridge were the guest speakers at the Randall Lewis Seminar Series organized by the University of California Riverside, Center for Sustainable Suburban Development. The series focuses on topics related to sustainable issues.
They are also members of the newly formed Ontario International Airport Authority, a regional alliance set up in case the city of Los Angeles turns over control of ONT.
Ontario officials have been attempting to regain control of the facility from Los Angeles World Airports, which also manages Van Nuys and Los International airports.
"This is a regional issue - 6 million people have (a) stake on the airport," Loveridge said.
Earlier this year, Ontario officials were successful in getting Los Angeles City Council members to begin discussions on transferring ONT to local control.
Since then, Wapner said the authority has met twice with Los Angeles officials for negotiations. The initial meetings have served to help the two sides determine the value of the airport.
Wapner said he will know more about the direction the discussions are heading by the end of the year.
If negotiations fail, Wapner told those in attendance on Tuesday that the city is ready to file anti-trust lawsuits.
For more than an hour, Loveridge asked Wapner, who has taken the lead in the case for local control, a series of questions related to the battle.
It has been nearly four years since Ontario officials waged a battle for local control of the airport, which has annually lost millions of passengers in that timeframe, Wapner told about 40 people that had gathered.
The current issues facing ONT are a result of three problems: too many employees, airport employees are paid the living wages of Los Angeles County, and there is a 15 percent administrative fee tacked on to the operating budget.
"All that together means we are way too expensive for airlines to do business here," he said.
Riverside resident Sam Weiss, who use to consider himself a frequent flier out of ONT, attended the discussion. Weiss said he travels at least seven times a year.
"I go from Los Angeles because it's half the price and non-stop. We could (go) from Ontario but it would be double the price," Weiss said.
Rob Moran, Riverside County Economic Development Agency manager, is no stranger to the struggles at ONT.
From an economic standpoint, the lack of flights can impact companies ability to get around. Oftentimes, executives coming into the area have to chose LAX because it is more affordable. They also end up planning their schedule around their flight, Moran said.
"You have a lot of businesses that need to get here in order to meet with their customers and see their operations," he said.
"The ability to get in and out of the region via air travel is really critical. Not having this asset here makes the region less attractive to do business."
Wapner urged those in attendance to join the city's social media campaign - Set ONTario Free - as well as contact their elected officials and let them know they support local control of the airport.