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
1 If SoCal really needs a big, new airport, old March Air Force Base in Riverside County, now open for commercial flights and 25 air miles from El Toro, sports a 13,300-foot runway—the longest in California.
2 On Nov. 20, 1997, county executive officer Jan Mittermeier told the solidly pro-airport Orange County Business Council that "96 percent of Orange County cargo is transported through airports other than [John Wayne Airport], which, according to Chapman University president and economist James Doti, is the equivalent of $4.9 billion in lost annual revenue." That sounds great, except Doti denies he or anyone at Chapman ever came up with that figure. In fact, no one seems to know where Mittermeier found such a precise figure. Unless she made it up.
3 At 1:44 a.m. on June 25, 1965, a U.S. Air Force C-135 (the equivalent of a Boeing 707) crashed into Loma Ridge nine minutes after departing north on El Toro's Runway 34. Aboard were the plane's 12 crew members and 72 Marines headed for Vietnam. All were killed. After the crash, all big transport aircraft were directed to depart El Toro to the south on Runway 16. Today, the county wants 38 percent of all departures to head north on Runway 34.
4 The county wants El Toro's eastern-facing Runway 7 to launch 62 percent of all departures. This is despite the fact that Runway 7 is the worst of all of El Toro's runways, since it forces aircraft to depart uphill into rising terrain with tail winds—a hat trick of trouble commercial pilots usually try to avoid.
5 In order to scare the hell out of Newport Beach and make sure its residents continue to support a massive international airport at El Toro, county planners came up with Plan G. If El Toro doesn't get the go-ahead, Plan G would kick in: John Wayne Airport gets a few additional thousand feet of runway, huge swaths of commercial land around the field get swallowed up (including the corporate park that houses OC Weekly World Headquarters), and 25 million passengers fly in and out of the terminal every year to points around the globe. Ironically, anti-airport supervisors have tried to kill Plan G; not so surprisingly, pro-airport supervisors have successfully voted to keep it alive. What's even scarier is that many Newport Beach residents might actually believe the county would blast their city off the map with this monster.
6 Two words: baggage claim.
7 Because El Toro would open in the middle of one of the largest concentrations of airports in the world, it would hurl 150 planes into already-existing flight paths every day.
8 Commercial airliners and airports are the biggest unregulated sources of air pollution in the world. Airports typically emit more nitrogen oxides and volatile organics (what you and I call smog) than most power plants and industrial centers. According to a 1996 Natural Resources Defense Council report on airliner pollution, "If the relationship between airplanes, airports and air pollution is not thoroughly re-examined, [the predicted] increase in flights will undoubtedly lead to a continued increase in uncontrolled, local air pollution."
9 Despite county officials' assurances that they'd work to get nighttime curfews at El Toro, no such restrictions appear in the El Toro Airport System Master Plan. Instead, planners proposed voluntary, non-binding agreements with each airline, limiting the flights of aircraft during late-night and early morning hours. Since the Federal Aviation Administration isn't involved with these agreements, it's unclear how many—if any—airlines will go for this scheme.
10 No commercial airlines have expressed any interest to the county in either moving their operations from John Wayne Airport or opening additional, redundant gates at El Toro.
11 County El Toro spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Tom Wall (USMC, Retired). Paid $5,000 per month to speak to civic groups on the county's plans for El Toro, Wall is also executive director of the Newport Beach-based pro-airport group Orange County Airport Alliance. Wall, who flew helicopters in the Marines and has never logged a single hour in a commercial airliner (except, we presume, as a passenger), likes to tell crowds that El Toro "is in fact an international airport today." When faced with questions about commercial pilots' unions criticizing El Toro's eastern-facing Runway 7 for its nearly constant tail winds, Wall typically responds with the authority of one who would know that "wind direction is not even an issue when talking about today's commercial airliners."
12 The county's June 4 and 5, 1999, series of demonstration flights in and out of El Toro designed to "calm the fears" of residents worried that a future El Toro International Airport would destroy their quality of life actually did nothing of the sort. In fact, the tests were bogus from the outset, producing "no usable data," as then-El Toro program manager Courtney Wiercioch acknowledged afterward. Residents still rose up in indignation, even though the test planes were lightly loaded and flew along special flight tracks and used departure procedures that significantly cut their noise.
13 We have no real affection for 5th District Supervisor Tom Wilson—his relationship with Don Bren's Irvine Co. is a little too cozy for our tastes—but his getting passed over for chairman of the board twice is ridiculous. What makes the three pro-airport supervisors on the board so terrified of anti-airport Wilson sitting in the center seat? Is their hold over the airport planning process that tenuous?
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."
28 To promote their vaunted airport, county PR flacks have spun some of the emptiest promises we've seen since the bankruptcy. Did you know that "our continued prosperity depends on our ability to become a full-fledged member of the global community"? Or that the proposed airport will "help the economy soar" and "lift the spirits of recreation-minded residents"? Even if the county gets its way, the airport won't open until 2005—but can we have those airsick bags now?
29 Chronic exposure to jet noise is dangerous. According to Arline Bronzaft, a noise specialist at the City University of New York, listening to airplanes day and night can raise blood pressure and cause psychiatric disorders. In addition, a 1995 study by Barbara Luke at the University of Michigan concluded that sustained noise can stimulate stress hormones in pregnant women, leading to premature contractions.
30 Residents around El Toro will hear 80 to 90 decibels from every airplane landing and taking off. That's really loud. But the county insists that nearby residents "will experience little or no noise." That's because state law only requires them to analyze noise averaged over a 24-hour period, as opposed to single-event noise—imagine the sounds of a car crash in your living room averaged out over the course of the day. The result, of course, is that the county benefits from mishandled newspaper accounts saying residents will only have to face 65 decibels of noise from the airport.
31 Page 1-6 of the county's 10,000-page Draft Environmental Impact Report lists unresolved issues surrounding El Toro. The most important: "Method of delivering aviation fuel to El Toro for the project." In other words, the county is about to start building a $3 billion airport, and their planners have no clue how they're going to get 14 million gallons of jet fuel to that massive tank farm they spent so much time and money designing.
32 Sleek, modern airports like Denver International typically pop up in flat, empty areas far away from population centers and inconvenient terrain. El Toro is an exception: not only do hundreds of thousands of people live within a couple of miles of its tarmac, but hills also surround the base on three sides. Only the base's western edge lacks rising terrain, but county officials say no aircraft will take off in that direction—doing so would hurl planes directly at John Wayne Airport.
33 The nation's two largest commercial pilots' unions, the Air Line Pilots Association and the Allied Pilots Association—which between them represent thousands of pilots —oppose the county's proposed El Toro runway layout. Their reasons: El Toro's runways slope upward into rising terrain, making engine-out procedures (when an aircraft loses an engine while taking off) tricky and scary.
34 In April 1998, the aviation firm Jeppesen Sanderson handed its two-volume Jeppesen Analyses report on El Toro to the county. That report, containing hundreds of pages of tables detailing departure weights for every conceivable airliner under every conceivable temperature situation, proves that El Toro's eastern-facing Runway 7 —slated to handle 62 percent of all departures—forces significant weight penalties on all aircraft. The report also makes clear these penalties don't exist on other runways. County officials' continued insistence that there is absolutely nothing wrong with Runway 7 has led many critics to wonder whether they are stupid or just plain dishonest.
35 For an airport slated to move 2.2 million tons of cargo every year by 2020, it's too bad air cargo companies couldn't care less about El Toro. "UPS is very pleased with its operations at John Wayne Airport," wrote an official from that company to the county on Jan. 18, 1999. When Airborne Express submitted its interim cargo plan for El Toro, it called for a mere 10 operations per week—four of which would require only a single-engine prop plane. Even Federal Express, which supports an airport at El Toro, called for only a dozen operations per week. Of course, interim cargo at El Toro is now dead, but it's doubtful any of these companies care.
36 "I really doubt that those runways as they are will be your runways," said Mary Schiavo, former federal Department of Transportation inspector general, on Oct. 1, 1998. "They will have to be rotated." In other words, the runways point in the wrong directions and ideally would run parallel to the 5 freeway. Schiavo, a nationally recognized authority on airport and airline safety, also predicted that because John Wayne Airport is just seven miles from El Toro, it would close once El Toro opens.
37 County officials like to say that, unless you live in a zone exposed to 65 decibels of noise averaged over 24 hours (called 65 CNEL), you won't hear anything from El Toro. Yet this completely contradicts evidence from John Wayne Airport, where the residents who complain the most about airplane noise to that airport's noise office live in Balboa and Corona del Mar—four miles from the John Wayne CNEL zone. For the hundreds of thousands of residents who live similar distances from El Toro, good luck.
38 "People ask, 'Where are people that are on welfare right now going to find jobs?'" said 2nd District Supervisor, airport booster and New Voice of the Downtrodden Jim Silva on the Feb. 2, 1998, episode of KOCE's Real Orange news program. "Well, there are a lot of low-skill jobs with every airport that will take care of a lot of communities that have a lot of people who have a hard time getting jobs."
39 For all the county's talk about building a giant park at El Toro, the FAA generally frowns on planting big trees and filling deep ponds mere yards from the runways. The reason: birds. It's too easy for small birds to get sucked into big jet turbines at inopportune moments like landings and takeoffs. FAA Advisory Circular 150/5200-33, titled "Hazardous Wildlife Attractants on or Near Airports," makes it clear nothing that attracts birds should sit within 10,000 feet of any runway or taxiway.
40 Megadeveloper, bazillionaire and right-wing political benefactor George Argyros wants it.
41 When taking off, a jumbo jet airliner will devour more than 500,000 gallons of air per second. After five minutes, it has consumed the air produced by 50,000 acres of forest. That same airliner typically spends 32 minutes taxiing on the ground, during which it emits 190 pounds of ozone-depleting nitrogen oxide. By 2020, the airline industry estimates there will be 20,000 such airliners in the skies.
42 The county continues to insist that El Toro is a turnkey operation: open the gates and let the airlines fly in. But according to the 1994 study on El Toro conducted by Kotin, Regan & Mouchly for the city of Laguna Niguel, El Toro's runways, hangars and air-traffic-control center are all outdated and useless for a commercial airport. In addition, the report noted that of all Southern California airport sites, El Toro has "the highest potential civilian casualties in the event of an airplane crash due to the extensive residential and commercial development."
43 According to calculations by Albert E. Domke, operational engineering manager for United Airlines, the airline's Boeing 757s can only take off from El Toro's Runway 7 with 94.5 percent of their maximum payload under calm conditions and just 76.9 percent when 7-knot tail winds are blowing across the pavement.
44 To clarify such a "technical" issue as noise, county officials hauled out noise consultant Vince Mestre for an April 7, 1998, "educational" briefing for the county Board of Supervisors. During his presentation, Mestre offered such insights as "There is a relationship between noise exposure and the population that is affected by noise" and "Studies of human response to noise have shown that human response to noise is very complex." Needless to say, the only noise heard during the board meeting was snoring.
45 Page 6-9 of the county's Airport System Master Plan shows how all four El Toro runways are completely useless and have to go. During construction Phase 1, "the existing 10,000-foot Runway 16R/ 34L will be reconstructed." Phase 2 will see that runway extended a half-mile, as well as the construction of "a new Runway 16L/ 34R." Runway 7R/25L will also have to be "reconstructed." Nothing will happen in Phase 3, but Phase 4 "calls for the construction of a new Runway 7L/25R."
46 The county calls El Toro a "midsize" airport. But the Airport System Master Plan says that in 2020, there will be 412 arrivals and 412 departures every day—824 operations in all. That works out to an average of one operation every two minutes. All day and all night. Sleep tight.
47 Los Angeles International Airport sucked an average of 27.4 percent from the property values of homes surrounding that airport, according to a study by licensed real-estate appraiser Randall Bell. The same study also shows commercial office buildings directly under the LAX flight path along Century Boulevard have a 38.1 percent vacancy rate—17 percent higher than comparable buildings just a couple of miles away.
48 Old George Air Force Base in Victorville is 60 air miles from El Toro and also open for commercial flights.
49 Sometimes, county officials' giddy anticipation of flying hundreds of thousands of planes into El Toro every year gets to them. According to Page 3-3 of the county's 1998 Working Paper 3—JWA/OCA Simulation Assumptions report, El Toro International Airport's "terminal building will have an infinite number of gates to accommodate all aircraft." In addition, "a similar gate with infinite capacity will be created at the airport for general aviation aircraft and for cargo operations." We'd like to say that's a lot of people, but we can't count to infinity.
50 Although county officials like to say that their proposed El Toro International Airport will actually make air quality better here than if nothing is built (stop laughing), Page 4.5-5 of the DEIR says different. A section called "Project Impacts on Regional Air Quality" makes clear that El Toro "would result in exceedances [sic] of all criteria pollutants (CO, NOx, ROC and particulate matter [PM10]). Three of these increases (CO, NOx and PM10) would exceed the operational thresholds established by the [Southern California Air Quality Management District]."