In-Fight Testing

Supporters of the county's plans to drop a massive international airport on the old El Toro Marine Corps Air Station are squabbling amongst themselves. That's easy to understand, as there will be no cargo flights until 2001 at the earliest, the June noise demonstrations only succeeded in radicalizing South County residents, and county officials still haven't finished the airport environmental-impact report.

Thoughtful people might look at these discrete events as a pattern showing the futility of turning El Toro into a commercial airport. But airport boosters have never been a thoughtful bunch. Instead of questioning the county's ability to shoot 800,000 operations per year into El Toro, they're questioning whether the county has the propaganda muscle to drown out the bad news.

"[The] county's community outreach should be dramatically intensified," said Bruce Nestande, president of the George Argyros-backed booster group Citizens for Jobs and the Economy, in the Sept. 10 Orange County Register. "How do you survive if you can't keep the public on your side?"

In Nestande's world, the airport is a neat idea, and county officials have failed—or refused—to bring to bear on the issue the powerful propaganda weapons of the modern state. In the same Regstory, 4th District Supervisor Cynthia Coad, a firm airport supporter, defined "community outreach" as "getting information out—it's not to spread propaganda."

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Recent airport history says Nestande and Coad are both wrong—that the county has already been engaged in a massive campaign to manufacture public consent:

• In a now-infamous Nov. 20, 1997, speech, County Executive Officer Jan Mittermeier told the Orange County Business Council that the county loses "$4.9 billion" every year because it lacks a proper cargo airport. Mittermeier said Chapman University generated the figure —an assertion Chapman president Jim Doti firmly denies. No explanation for the discrepancy—other than airport boosters simply made up the number—has ever surfaced.

• Since El Toro planning began, county officials have stressed that Runway 7 (slated to handle 70 percent of all departures) is fine and potentially profitable. County officials have attacked the numerous commercial pilots and unions who say Runway 7's uphill grade, nearby hills and tailwinds make it treacherous. Yet a report put out by the county's own consultant shows that Runway 7's shortcomings would require commercial aircraft to fly light (fewer passengers and less cargo and fuel) in order to make it safely over the hilltops. Those "weight penalties" don't exist on El Toro's other runways.

• County officials and boosters constantly define El Toro International Airport as a solution to rapidly rising air-travel demand, completely ignoring the fact that demand at John Wayne Airport has dropped for two years in a row.

• County mailers consistently quote former El Toro program manager Courtney Wiercioch as saying hardly anyone in the county will hear any noise from the airport and whatever noise will occur is less than the noise previously heard from Marine jets. Yet county officials always neglect to mention that commercial airplanes at El Toro will fly all day and all night—something the Marines never did—and by 2020, they will fly roughly once every four minutes.

It's understandable why Nestande would find all of this insufficient "outreach." After all, he's a veteran of drag-the-opposition-through-the-mud politicking. During past El Toro ballot campaigns, his group circulated mailers throughout South County advertising how an anti-airport vote would lead to El Toro becoming a maximum-security prison. The mailers contained Charles Manson's picture with the caption "Your new neighbor."

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