By On the occasion of our 20th anniversary
By Gustavo Arellano
By R. Scott Moxley
By Alfonso Delgado
By Courtney Hamilton
By Joel Beers
By Peter Maguire
By Charles Lam
14 In a June 14, 1999, letter to El Toro Airport Info Web site editor Len Kranser, American Airlines vice president Robert W. Baker wrote that his company disagreed strongly with the county's reliance on infamous Runway 7, noting that "Runway 7 with a tail wind component and rising terrain will never be considered desirable or preferable from an airline or pilot's point of view" and predicted that "you can fully expect most pilots to reject an offer of Runway 7," potentially throwing the county's "preferred runway" plan for El Toro into chaos.
15 Twenty-seven years ago, the all-powerful Irvine Co.—which now pretends to be neutral on the El Toro issue—found the prospect of a massive commercial airport on the Irvine doorstep too awful to contemplate: "Civilian or dual use of either or both the two Marine Corps air facilities shall be opposed for reasons of safety and environmental compatibility," wrote Irvine Co. vice president for planning Richard A. Reese in an Oct. 5, 1972, letter to the Orange County Planning Commission. "It shall be a policy to cooperate in the planning of systems which provide ground-transportation linkages to air-transportation facilities."
16 A 1980 noise study of neighborhoods near LAX conducted by UC Irvine social ecology professor Dan Stokols shows that children in El Segundo and Inglewood schools under that airport's flight path experienced higher stress than children in quieter schools. "Blood pressure in children went up after initial exposure to the noise but then stabilized after prolonged exposure," said Stokols in 1997. "Adrenaline secretions went up, too, but didn't stabilize."
17 First, way back in August 1996, county officials said a truly massive, 38 million-annual-passenger airport would cost just $1.5 billion. That's it—just about the amount of money blown in the 1994 county bankruptcy. Then, for a long time, county officials stopped talking about cost. When Christmas 1999 finally came around, county officials rolled out a new plan—half as big as the 1996 proposal but costing twice as much.
18 On Oct. 26, 1999, a week after voting to extend the contracts of three county El Toro planning managers, chairman of the Board of Supervisors Chuck Smith attended a $250-per-head fund-raiser at George Argyros' Arnel Development offices. Also in attendance were three pro-airport Newport Beach City Council members, Argyros mouthpiece and former 3rd District Supervisor Bruce Nestande, big-time Newport Beach city lobbyist Lyle Overby, and Argyros PR consultants Dave Ellis and Scott Hart.
19 "[W]e may eventually be stuck with an airport layout that, while it looks great by itself on paper, is virtually unusable from an integrated [air-traffic-control] standpoint," wrote FAA official Walter White in an Aug. 4, 1999, office e-mail concerning El Toro. "I do not look forward to the years of safety problems and litigation we might undergo as we work to fix a bad initial plan. Many of the plans reviewed to date have significant problems."
20 The county plans to place El Toro's 11-acre fuel-tank farm—eight massive tanks holding 14 million gallons of highly combustible jet fuel—near the railroad tracks along the base's southern edge. That's a mere 1,000 feet from Technology Drive, home to many of the high-tech firms that make up the Irvine Spectrum.
21 The county's great 770-acre regional park that wraps around El Toro's eastern-perimeter crash zones, which county officials advertised as opening in 2003, is actually one of the lowest construction priorities at the base. It won't open until sometime after 2015, according to the Airport System Master Plan's construction schedule. But the base's two golf courses will open by 2005, showing the county's true priorities when it comes to planting grass.
22 Considering all the hype surrounding El Toro's economic benefits to the county, county planners estimate the new airport will create just 32,000 jobs and $3 billion in economic output over the next 20 years —exactly what it costs to build.
23 In 1998, 3.5 percent fewer passengers used John Wayne Airport than the previous year. In fact, 20 of the 25 months between October 1997 and November 1999 showed lower passenger use at John Wayne Airport than during the same month in the previous year. Passenger demand is only now climbing to 1997 levels. Clearly, John Wayne Airport is stagnating at roughly 7 million passengers per year. Where is the "rising demand" county officials trumpet when explaining the need for a massive international airport at El Toro?
24 The county's "turnkey" El Toro International Airport is actually a construction job of Hoover Dam proportions. Because the county wants to reshape the base's slope, it will have to add 5.9 million cubic yards of dirt to the base's northwestern and southwestern quadrants. To put that into perspective, the famous Colorado River dam contains only 4.5 million cubic yards of concrete. Bringing the dirt to the base will be a job in itself:it will require 30,000 railcars, which, if linked in one train, would stretch 340 miles.
25 The county has already wasted more than $40 million planning five different airport proposals—none of which will work.
26 Old Norton Air Force Base in San Bernardino is 45 air miles from El Toro and is open for commercial flights.
27 "More than enough safety issues have surfaced out of the county's proposed El Toro airport configuration and proposed operations that we think that the best interests of the flying public are not being taken into account," wrote former FAA associate administrator Don Segner in an Oct. 31, 1997, letter to FAA director Jane Garvey. "The people of Orange County need to know what the noise and environmental impacts will be. Lack of information as to the real noise impacts is misleading many buyers and developers."