Super Suckers

Tired of defending the county's indefensible El Toro International Airport, the Newport Beach-based Airport Working Group has once again spent taxpayer money on a mailer attacking the South County's proposed Great Park Initiative. Featuring a great big lollipop labeled "Great Park" over the P.T. Barnum quotation "There's a sucker born every minute," the mailer is based on two hapless sources of anti-park propaganda.

The first is Orange County Register editorial writer Steven Greenhut's May 6 editorial blasting the proposed Great Park as "the Great Pork"—a potential boondoggle concocted by "Irvine's left-wing Mayor Larry Agran" that would consume "gobs of taxpayer funds" in its quest to build meadows, gardens, ball fields, schools and museums. Greenhut, who clearly prefers the "significant commercial development" of proposed nonaviation El Toro reuse plans, ultimately opines that anti-airport forces are nothing but leftist slow-growth types who want only to "put a fence around the former base and use it as a buffer zone against growth and development."

If only it were true. In fact, it's a minor miracle that so many South County elected officials—the vast majority of whom are conservatives who never met a developer they didn't love—now advocate the Great Park. The truth, of course, is that most South County officials would prefer to fill El Toro with the same sprawl that overruns their own cities, but they're smart enough to acknowledge both the polls that show overwhelming support for the Great Park and the need to present a united front against the county's massive and well-funded airport program office.

The anti-Great Park mailer also includes a full reprinting of a letter to the editor written by Reed Royalty, a longtime development shill and president of the so-called Orange County Taxpayers Association. That group supported both the El Toro International Airport and the failed 1995 Measure R tax increase designed to get the county out of municipal bankruptcy.

In the letter, Royalty praised Greenhut's editorial and pointed to San Francisco's conversion of the 100-acre army base at Crissy Field into a park as a major reason to doubt South County's Great Park initiative. "Using taxpayers' money and private donations," Royalty wrote, the National Park Service built the park for $34 million. Extrapolating that figure, Royalty calculated that the Great Park would cost $1.6 billion.

Even assuming Royalty's $340,000-per-acre park-

development cost is correct, the Great Park would actually pencil out to something like $1.25 billion, since 1,000 acres of the base were dedicated open space by the Marines and would receive no development even should the county build its airport. Nevertheless, Crissy Field is important to look at—not as an example of the high cost of building parks but as testament to the use of private donations to offset taxes.

Virtually all of the money used to convert Crissy Field came from private donations. In addition, 4,000 volunteers worked for the past three years to restore the land's natural marsh ecology. There is every reason to believe, once the Navy Department has finished its hazardous-material cleanup, that a similar effort on a much larger scale can be made at El Toro.

But none of this is really at issue. If Royalty and Greenhut want to root out wasteful public spending, they should look no further than the county's plan for El Toro International. It will cost billions of dollars to build new runways, hangars and air-traffic control facilities, to say nothing of the hotels and commercial development planners envision. Truly a plan for suckers.

 
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