Millennium Plan Madness

There are so many groups opposed to the proposed El Toro International Airport that we're going to have to start tagging them before we release them into the wild. There's the El Toro Reuse Planning Authority (ETRPA), representing cities fighting the airport. There's the grassroots Taxpayers for Responsible Planning. There's Larry Agran's Project 99. There's Clear the Air, consisting of homeowners' associations. And there's the El Toro Coalition, a group trying to get all these other groups to work in harness.

But the diversity you find in real life is not reflected online. There's the county's official El Toro site (www.eltoromdp.org) if you want the party line on why plopping the country's fifth-largest airport smack in the middle of South County's upscale residential area is a fabulous idea. And there's the venerable El Toro Airport Info Site (www.eltoroairport.org), a thorough compendium of all the reasons the forthcoming airport really bites. And that's it.

Recently, however, a third player strode onto the field, and its appearance has caused a minor dustup among El Toro opponents. The Millennium Plan Web site (www.millenniumplan.com) is an unofficial site run by Irvine attorney Anthony Dragun that is designed to extol the virtues of ETRPA's non-aviation reuse plan. The Millennium Plan was proposed as an alternative to the county's and developers' starry-eyed visions of an international airport taking the place of the Marine Corps Air Station. Instead, ETRPA proposes turning the base into a combination habitat preserve, park, entertainment complex, museum, university campus and more.

"Do you believe the politicians who claim that a commercial airport, with its noise, pollution and congestion, is the best future we can offer to ourselves, our children and our communities?" the site asks. "Or can you imagine something better?"

It sounds pretty inoffensive, and it would seem a welcome message for airport opponents. But at least one wishes it would just go away.

The dispute began over a domain name. ETRPA is planning to launch its own official Millennium Plan site, and it asked Len Kranser, who runs the El Toro Info Site, to register the domain name millenniumplan.com for its use. But Kranser discovered Dragun already had the name. According to Kranser, ETRPA asked Dragun if he would refrain from publishing the site, but Dragun went ahead with the project anyway.

"[Dragun's] on our side," Kranser said, "but I'm not sure [he's] doing it the way we would have wanted [him] to do it-particularly since ETRPA is putting up its own Web site.

"The sites are not working against each other, but I think they're trying to divide too small of a pie," he added. "The anti-airport groups are very different: there are groups of cities, homeowners' associations, a PAC, and so on. But the Web sites are all substantially putting out the same information."

"I don't think that's a problem," Dragun said. "We take a very different approach from Len's site. And even if there is some duplication, so what? It's like going to the library-wouldn't you rather have 10 books on a subject than one book? It's so easy to click from one site to the next that I don't see how it could possibly be harmful, as long as no one's putting out disinformation."

Meg Waters, spokeswoman for ETRPA, strongly disagreed with Kranser that Dragun's site poses a problem for her own. "We're very happy with the site," she said bluntly. "Len has his knickers in a twist because he wants to own the Internet when it comes to El Toro. The only person who's upset about it is Len. We're fine with it; Anthony [Dragun] is fine with it. It really is over as far as ETRPA is concerned."

Waters confirmed that at one point, ETRPA did ask Dragun to not go forward with the site but that they had "absolutely no problem" with his refusal. The group is going ahead with its own site, which will be located at www.millenniumplan.ca.gov.

"Of all the things I have to worry about right now, I couldn't give a shit if there were 20 Web sites [on the Millennium Plan]," she said. "I just don't care."

"Meg is very politic, very polite," Kranser responded. "I would hardly expect her to knock anybody's efforts. I don't see the Millennium Plan site hurting ours at all. My concern for Meg is that it might hurt the official Millennium Plan site-if someone goes to a search engine, they're going to see 'millenniumplan.com,' and they might go there instead. I see it as more competitive of ETRPA's site than of mine."

But the whole concept of "competition" online is an odd one. It's true that where there are millions of dollars at stake, the situation can get kind of cutthroat-witness barnesandnoble.com's recent efforts to knock amazon.com out of the running when it comes to selling books online. But in this case, we're talking about a few nonprofit sites that are working toward the same goal. Perhaps there's going to be some duplication of effort, some information repeated from site to site, but who's that going to hurt?

And when it comes to the search engines diverting people from the official site, we're talking about a grand total of three anti-airport sites. Kranser himself admitted the county's airport site-put up as a direct response to the success of his El Toro Info Site-hasn't hurt him; he claimed his site is getting 10 times as many hits as all the other airport sites put together. And even organized efforts to control the flow of information online by manipulating search engines have failed. Small-scale sneakiness-such as porn sites seeding their pages with common keywords so they'll pop up in unrelated searches-has been around for years, with only minor irritating effects. And the one large-scale effort I know of-the Scientologists' attempt to flood the Internet with nearly identical, pro-Scientology Web pages so that critics of the church would drown in the deluge-isn't working all that well. I said as much to Kranser, and he grudgingly agreed. "Okay, so I'm protective of Meg," he said. "I think you're right-it's not that big a deal. It's not going to be a big deal."

It's really not. Hundreds of jets every day blasting the eardrums of OC residents and spraying a fine mist of jet exhaust into our already grubby skies-now that's a big deal.

Send your nominations for the best and worst sites in OC to Wyn at machineage@mediaone.net.

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