LOS ANGELES (CBSLA.com) — City lawmakers Wednesday cleared the way for negotiations toward the possible ownership transfer of Ontario International Airport to local officials.

KNX 1070’s Claudia Peschiutta reports an Ontario City Council member issued a stark warning about the struggling airport.

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“Ontario Airport is on the brink of disaster,” Ontario Councilman Allen Wapner said about the airport that was built to serve 12 million passengers annually, but now operates at about one-third of its capacity.

Members of the L.A. City Council voted 12-2 to decline a $246 million bid package put forward by Ontario in December 2011 to transfer control of the airport, but agreed to begin negotiating the terms of a future sale.

The move marks a sharp reversal from a denial from Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa in March that the city had any plans to pursue such a sale.

Inland Empire city and county governments have been lobbying for local control of the airport, which lost 2.7 million travelers per year — 37.5 percent of its passengers — from 2007 to 2011.

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Lawmakers, however, remain sharply divided over the airport’s value.

“What is Ontario worth on the open market?” asked L.A. City Councilman Tony Cardenas, who called an earlier offer from Ontario officials that included a transfer of $50 million “ridiculous”.

Gina Marie Lindsey, the executive director of Los Angeles World Airports, which operates Ontario, LAX, and Van Nuys, would not publicly reveal her assessment of what Ontario is worth, but estimated the number would be a minimum of several hundred million dollars.

“We have been very attentive to our responsibilities at Ontario, however that doesn’t mean that the picture out there is a happy one,” said Lindsey.

L.A. City Administrative Officer Miguel Santana is expected to report back to the council in 90 days about the progress of the negotiations.

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