By Supervisors Janice Rutherford and Curt Hagman, San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors.
The recent announcement that the City of Los Angeles has agreed to transfer control and ownership of Ontario International Airport to a joint powers authority that includes the County of San Bernardino and the City of Ontario marked an amicable end to an arduous, acrimonious, and expensive battle over a key component of San Bernardino County’s economy.
The transfer begs the question why San Bernardino County got involved in a city’s effort to secure control of an airport located entirely within the city’s boundaries and agreed to partner with the city to manage the airport.
In 2011, the Board of Supervisors and representatives from each of the county’s 24 incorporated cities and towns unanimously adopted a publicly created Countywide Vision that combines and outlines local goals for the future of the county—the entire county, not just the unincorporated areas. The vision calls for all sectors of the community to work together to create a “complete county” in which both residents and investors have the opportunity to thrive. The vision recognizes that all elements of a community—including jobs and the economy, education, public safety, housing, wellness, environment, and quality of life— are interconnected and interdependent.
Subsequently, the Board of Supervisors took action defining county government’s operating paradigm as that of facilitator and convener in pursuit of that vision. As the County’s participation in returning the Ontario Airport to local control illustrates, this role goes beyond simply scheduling meetings and moderating discussions.
It was imperative for the County to join the fight for local control. Ontario International Airport has long been recognized as a key element in the County and region’s economy. The airport’s recent dramatic decline in passenger traffic is estimated to have cost the region many billions of dollars in lost economic activity. This lost economic activity hurts our County’s ability to attract and retain quality jobs that generate resources necessary to strengthen public safety protection, better educate our children, build vital public infrastructure and increase access to affordable health care. Those impacts and the effect they have on each other countywide illustrate why the vision of a “complete county” is necessary, and why the County’s role in achieving it is vital.
So when the City of Ontario decided it was in its best interest to regain control of the airport, the Board of Supervisors saw that it was in the entire County’s best interest to partner with the city, form a joint powers authority, help secure the support of Riverside County and other public agencies from throughout Southern California, and invest money—the only entity besides the City of Ontario to do so—in the effort. That said, it should be noted the successful outcome was largely attained through the efforts of the Ontario International Airport Authority and its chairman, Ontario Councilman Alan Wapner.
San Bernardino County also has some practical reasons for teaming up with the City of Ontario in winning back local control of the airport. The success or failure of Ontario International Airport extends far beyond Ontario’s city limits and has a direct impact on many of the County’s core responsibilities. As the social safety net provider for all County residents and the provider of law enforcement services in the unincorporated areas and via contract in 14 of the county’s 24 cities as well jail beds countywide, the County understands the airport’s success translates into more jobs, more prosperity, and less demand for the taxpayer-funded services it provides.
The hard work of acquiring the airport has ended. The harder work of turning around the airport is about to begin. It is now up to us to prove to our residents, the rest of Southern California, and the world that we can make our airport as productive as we said we could; that we can make it attain the potential it holds.
We have a great airport. Ontario is much easier to get to than any other airport in Southern California, the terminals are new and spacious, parking is convenient and plentiful, and it is less susceptible to weather delays than airports closer to the coast.
Ontario International Airport is surrounded by a vast amount of prime, developable property. Our airport’s recovery will spur the business and industrial development of this land, which in turn will bring more business to the airport, create more jobs in our communities, and move us closer to achieving our vision of a complete County that provides a wide range of opportunities to our residents and investors.
We also must change public perceptions. When flights became scarce out of Ontario, fares went up and amenities declined. Brand new restaurants inside the terminals closed or drastically reduced their hours. Many of our residents found it necessary to fly out of LAX, Orange County, or San Diego, and we also lost travellers from other parts of Southern California who once enjoyed the easy access and amenities of Ontario International Airport.
Customers will need reasons to come back to Ontario, and it is up to us to create those reasons and get the word out. Bringing flights and passengers back to our airport will not be easy, but it can be accomplished. High on the list of priorities includes working with airlines to increase the number of flights out of Ontario and bringing new airlines in to provide additional flight offerings to connect to other parts of the country.
A successful Ontario International Airport is also good for the rest of Southern California. It means less traffic to and from LAX, where freeways are like parking lots filled with idling cars even without the additional airport traffic, and directly results in lower travel costs for constituents.
The homegrown cooperative effort that challenged the nation’s second-largest city and brought the airport back under local control demonstrates we have the will and the ingenuity to operate it, grow it toward greater success, and capitalize on that success to benefit the entire Inland Empire.
Supervisor Curt Hagman was elected to serve San Bernardino County’s Fourth District in November of 2014, after serving three terms in the California State Assembly.