Airport expansions always take their toll on neighbors, but Los Angeles is moving forward with its $11 billion LAX expansion in full confidence that local environmental, labor and community groups won't sue over any ill effects. The airport authority has already negotiated an agreement with an alliance of two dozen groups that will result in a $500 million package of infrastructure improvements for homes and schools, job training and other efforts at mitigation.

The 10-month negotiation was born out of the concerns of the local groups about the airport and was based on earlier "community benefits agreements" some of the same groups had worked out on other mega- projects, including the Staples Center, a massive entertainment facility in downtown Los Angeles. The LAX accord is the first to be worked out with a public agency but was quickly embraced by city officials who saw the benefits of negotiating away complaints before the project gets fully underway.

"Some people speculate that this package may have been a critical factor for certain council members as to whether or not they were going to be supportive of the airport package," says David Kissinger, an aide to Los Angeles city council sponsor Cindy Miscikowski.

Kissinger notes that having an airport for a neighbor has its benefits but imposes burdens as well. Jerilyn Mendoza, an attorney with the Environmental Justice Project who helped negotiate the agreement, says that "this was the most expeditious way to address the community concerns regarding these impacts without having to go through litigation."

The package still needs the approval of the Federal Aviation Administration, but since an FAA official called it a "model" other airports can follow, that seems assured.