Going to the Los Angeles International Airport can be a nightmare, the bumper to bumper traffic begins before you even get to the first terminal. Officials with Los Angeles World Airports (LAWA), the city agency that runs LAX, know this and have a plan to alleviate congestion and traffic around the airport.
While this is great news for all the Angelenos who fly, the plan comes with human consequences for those who live in Manchester Square, a neighborhood east of the airport.
Manchester Square is mostly a ghost town. Empty, fenced-off lots line abandoned streets. A few homes and apartment buildings are scattered on the empty land; some of them are still occupied, others are boarded up. A charter school still stands, but will eventually have to move. If you drive by the school during the day, you can hear the sounds of children in the courtyard.
It’s nothing like the middle class neighborhood it once was was.
LAWA started buying homes in Manchester Square in 1999. The residents, who lived directly under the flight path, had been complaining about plane noise. Rather than go through a soundproofing program, many decided to voluntarily sell their homes. Since then, LAWA has spent nearly half a billion dollars buying and razing over 500 homes and a school.
This past August, the Los Angeles City Council voted to purchase the final three dozen homes and apartment buildings in Manchester Square through eminent domain.
For many years, the airport didn’t have a plan for the land, but it does now: the Landside Access Modernization Program. The $5.5 billion plan aims to turn Manchester Square into a transportation hub. An above-ground automated people mover will get travellers in and out of LAX. A huge rental car facility will consolidate more than 20 rental car companies on one site. There will be additional parking, a drop off/pickup area, and an adjacent Metro stop.
The construction goal deadline is 2023.
“We’ve designed this in a way to provide people with quick, reliable, convenient access to the airport,” said Mark Waier, spokesman for LAWA’s Landside Access Modernization Program. “With the people mover the trains will run 24/7, and a train will be there every 120 seconds.”
For an airport that saw 90 million travelers last year alone, this is great news. However, as the neighborhood has been emptied, a homeless population has moved in.
Manchester Square resident Dedra Dixon has lived in the area for seven years. She’s watched as a homeless encampment has grown larger along the empty streets after the houses were razed. Because of the encampment, Dixon said she doesn’t let her two daughters play outside anymore.
Hundreds of homeless people have set up tents, and parked their RV’s and cars along the empty streets of Manchester Square. The city and county created a taskforce to try to help relocate this population before they have to vacate the property to make way for construction.
Christina Miller, LAWA’s Project manager on homeless issues spearheads the taskforce and works with outreach teams that visit the encampment regularly. She said they offer medical, substance abuse, employment services, and try to connect them to housing services. “Even though it’s hard to find housing”, Miller said, “It’s not impossible. And that’s really what the outreach teams are presenting.”
As for Dedra Dixon, she is skeptical about the support she’ll get from LAWA. She’s been told she has to move out of her apartment building by the end of the year. “As far the airport growing”, said Dixon. “Fine, do what you have to do, but make sure you take care of the residents who’ve been here though, and make sure they’re ok, and it’ll all be fine.”
But some residents don’t want to leave at all. When the city council voted to invoke eminent domain in August, 92-year-old resident Michael Parris spoke out at the hearing. He said he didn’t want to leave the neighborhood his family had called home for 60 years.