Despite objections from mayoral candidate and council member Eric Garcetti, the Los Angeles City Council voted Tuesday to move ahead with plans to shift a Los Angeles International Airport runway 260 feet, a change officials say will improve airfield safety.

The council voted 10-3, with member Jan Perry absent, to support a plan favored by airport executives to move the airfield's northernmost runway closer to Westchester homes and businesses. The council vote also advances less controversial improvements, including a consolidated rental car facility, ground transportation center and automated people mover to shuttle passengers around the airport.

"I give the council a great deal of credit for going ahead and recognizing that we have to make long-term decisions for the good of the city," said Gina Marie Lindsey, Los Angeles World Airports executive director.

Officials say the runway change will increase safety and improve operational efficiency at the nation's third-busiest airport. They say the current configuration on the north side of the airport - two parallel runways 700 feet apart - is outdated and makes the airfield too cramped for larger modern airplanes, like the Airbus A380 and Boeing 747-8.

The issue has become contentious in recent months. Residents living in Westchester and nearby Playa del Rey have vigorously disputed the airport's claims, citing a study by an academic panel and NASA's Ames Research Center suggesting the airfield is safe as is. Opponents argue the project will unnecessarily increase noise and pollution on nearby neighborhoods.

Councilman-elect Mike Bonin, who will soon represent Westchester, said residents believe the runway change could lay the groundwork for an eventual expansion of LAX, an assertion airport officials vigorously dispute.

"You don't gain anything environmentally with it, you don't gain anything safety wise with it, and you don't gain any efficiency with it," Bonin said. "This is not about 260 feet. This is about expansion of the airport. "

But Lindsey has pushed back, saying the airport could lose its competitive advantage if does not update its runways. Under the current system, the airport must slow its operations when large planes like the A380 land on the northernmost runway. (There are also two parallel runways on the south side of the field, but that configuration was updated in 2008).

Lindsey's position was buoyed Monday when Federal Aviation Administration chief Michael Huerta sent a letter to Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa advocating the runway change.

"The only complete solution for LAX's safety and efficiency needs is airfield geometry to accommodate larger, modern aircraft," Huerta wrote.

Lindsey said FAA officials had recommended the airport move the runways an additional 350 feet apart, which would have further encroached on Westchester. She called the current proposal, which will not require the airport to acquire any additional land, a compromise.

"We were not shooting for the moon here," Lindsey said. "We tried very hard to scrub the numbers to only identify the runway separation necessary for safe and efficient movements for all of the aircraft in most of the operating conditions. "

Tuesday's vote was an important step, but it could be five years - or longer - before construction begins.

The projects still require more regulatory approval, including from the federal government, along with more detailed environmental reviews. And the plan will need to return to the City Council in several weeks, though, given Tuesday's lopsided vote, that step is considered a formality.

There also is a chance of litigation. An attorney for the Westchester community group, the Alliance for a Regional Solution to Airport Congestion, has suggested the airport did not properly conduct its environmental impact report, and has hinted the group could, eventually, file suit.

Garcetti, who recently received an endorsement from the Westchester alliance, said he had hoped the airport would move forward on the ground transportation elements of its plans while forgoing its attempts to move the runway. He was joined in voting 'no' by Councilmen Dennis Zine and Bill Rosendahl, whose district includes the airport. (Perry left before the vote but suggested she would have voted 'no' on the runway issue.)

"It is possible to create jobs today, to increase safety, to relieve traffic, to reduce pollution and to increase the experience for those who are coming," Garcetti said. "That is my priority. But I oppose moving the north runway to do that.