We Win

El Toro Airport Watch No. 137

The el toro international airport is dead, put to rest March 7 by Orange County residents who voted overwhelmingly for Measure F.

For regular readers of this column, Measure F's victory is no surprise. We've been reporting on the county's plans for El Toro since Jan. 24, 1997. Just about each week since then, we've detailed some misleading, incorrect or simply ludicrous aspect of the county's plan to build a massive international airport—the nation's fifth largest—in the middle of some of the most densely populated real estate in the western United States. Even with two daily newspaper competitors, fresh weekly evidence of the county's arrogance, stupidity and duplicity was never hard to find.

Our decision to openly oppose the county's plans for El Toro was simple: destroying communities is not open to question. If there were two sides on the El Toro issue, they were these: the right one and the county's.

The county's proposed El Toro International Airport was, from its very beginning, deeply flawed and downright cynical. From the start, county environmental-impact reports attempted to discount the damage a large international airport would wreak on South County cities. These same studies and reports overestimated aviation demand and economic benefits, to say nothing of popular support.

Through it all, the actions of the pro-airport county supervisors—Cynthia Coad, Jim Silva and Chuck Smith—personified fecklessness. They oversaw a planning process shrouded in secrecy. County officials routinely suppressed key planning documents. The supes' opposition to televising board meetings made them seem frightened of the idea that more than 50 people might see them rubber-stamping a process marked by delays, contradictions, outright lies and monumental cost overruns.

When Measure F—the citizens' effort to kill El Toro—first came before them in February 1999, the supervisors' response was typical: they ignored it. When anti-airport activists went on to gather more than 220,000 signatures for Measure F, the pro-airport supes panicked and endorsed a propaganda program designed to suggest that Measure F would lead directly to the liberation of dangerous criminals onto our streets.

That's why passage of Measure F by a two-thirds margin—the highest of any previous El Toro ballot initiative—was so meaningful. Measure F could not have been passed by South County residents alone. Tens of thousands of people beyond El Toro's flight paths sided with those whose homes were in what had come to be called, in the haunting language of airport planning, El Toro's "noise print." The people of North County heard El Toro's boosters promise new jobs, less pollution and a booming economy if El Toro is built; they read the mailers featuring hardened convicts; and then the voters of North County told the supervisors to drop dead.

Measure F's huge margin of victory isn't a mere "bump in the road," as one airport booster put it. It's a complete and total rejection of the county's paranoid, inept planning process.

But don't expect immediate change. Airport boosters could barely conceal their eagerness to fight the measure in court. Smith vowed election night to put a new measure overturning Measure F on the ballot in November.

We dare him to do it. Voting data shows that he would face voter antipathy in every city but Newport Beach and Costa Mesa, which border John Wayne Airport. Residents in those cities are now justly terrified of the future. That's not a surprise: in order to guarantee the support of Costa Mesa and Newport Beach voters in their campaign for El Toro, airport boosters led by superdeveloper George Argyros spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on hysterical mailers warning residents in those cities that Measure F's passage would bring on cataclysmic expansion of John Wayne Airport.

It's now up to the South County residents who created Measure F to reach out to Newport Beach and Costa Mesa and promise to stand with citizens there in the battle to keep the lid on John Wayne Airport.

Ironically, people who live around John Wayne Airport will now have a powerful tool in that fight—Measure F; just as ironically, their own elected officials may become leaders in the campaign to undo Measure F in the courts.

For our part, we'll oppose any effort by the county to expand John Wayne Airport. We will continue to oppose the proposed El Toro International Airport for as long as the county continues to plan one. For that matter, we will continue to oppose the county (or any city) in attempts to build a Wal-Mart or prisons or weapons disposal yards or any other noxious use in a neighborhood where the residents oppose it.

Measure F was occasionally criticized as a manifestation of narrow, not-in-my-back-yard politics. We'd say there's nothing wrong with such provincialism; one of the best features of political conservatism is its emphasis on protecting what's yours. We trust that South County residents will support others throughout the county who, in voting for Measure F, said, "Not in anyone's back yard."

 
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