Flying Hyperbole

Last week, 120,400 residents received a big shot of PR from county-airport spin doctors. The full-color mailer -called "Ticket to Tomorrow" and filled with images of white, well-to-do people doing everything from sailing to horseback riding to (hey! What the hell's this?) chemistry-takes praise for the proposed El Toro International Airport to nauseating new heights."Our continued prosperity depends on our ability to become a full-fledged member of the global community," the mailer asserts. "An airport with international access completes the picture of Orange County."Now that is something: the proposed airport will continue the county's three decades of airportless prosperity. And at the same time, the airport finally allows Orange County "full-fledged" access to the "global community." The airport is, the propaganda assures us, "the final piece of the puzzle," the thing we've been lacking that would make us just like LA, the answer to the nagging status anxiety we feel when we consider San Francisco, the only gap to be bridged between OC as suburb and OC as modern Alexandria.But county flacks don't stop there. Unfolding the mailer reveals a multitude of colorful pictures of flowery hillsides, wild deer and expansive parks under the banner "Flying High in Orange County: A plan to help the economy soar and lift the spirits of recreation-minded residents."You see, the county doesn't want to build an international airport. Instead, they want to build a lot of parks, nature trails and golf courses surrounding a "sleek, modern regional airport . . . with international access" (my emphasis). The mailer even asserts that "adjacent communities [will] enjoy pleasant views." Obviously, county planners understand that putting park land around an international airport is ludicrous. But around a regional airport? That doesn't sound nearly so bad. What's one word, more or less?Of course, the mailer repeats all the usual county pronouncements about how El Toro will be safe, quiet and clean-pronouncements we've already dispensed with (see El Toro Airport Watch No. 92). As for the proposed airport's necessity, the mailer asserts that "even today, the county handles just a tiny percentage of its own air-cargo needs, losing potentially billions of dollars in revenue to neighboring communities."Now that's clever propaganda. On Nov. 20, County Executive Officer Jan Mittermeier went before the Orange County Business Council and said the county was losing "$4.9 billion" because it didn't have a proper air-cargo airport. Mittermeier's source? She said it was Chapman University economist James Doti. But Doti later said Mittermeier's number was bogus; Mittermeier never explained where she got the figure. In fact, no one has ever cited any study on lost air-cargo revenue. Since no actual figure exists, the mailer has to rely on hyperbole.According to a county spokesperson, the hyperbole cost county taxpayers $75,000.

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