El toro international airport boosters are scared. You can hear it in their statements and see it in their actions. They're steadily losing, and (I swear this is true)you can smell the stink of their desperation.
They have a lot to fear. Commercial cargo flights, planned to begin the day after the Marines left in July, won't start for years. The long-awaited environmental impact report is behind schedule. Sensitive lease talks with the Navy Dept. are dragging on with no end in sight.
Sources close to the airport say all this has airport megabooster and bazillionaire developer George Argyros thoroughly pissed. These same sources say the big man's anger was behind the recent transfers of both the El Toro program manager and the public information manager.
"They [airport opponents] are winning," pro-airport Supervisor Chuck Smith told a recent meeting of the Newport Beach-based Airport Working Group. "We've got to fight them on their own ground, and that's with information."
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Smith's statement reveals his ignorance of Sun Tzu's 2,000-year-old strategy —never fight on ground chosen by your enemy. It also misses the point completely. The county has spewed out huge quantities of information for years in brochures, mailers, Web sites, reports, fact sheets, speaking engagements, TV commercials and newsletters. The county's problem isn't providing information—it's that the county's information sucks.
That fact received dramatic emphasis last week with Disneyland's announcement that the amusement park doesn't need an airport at El Toro. Instead, the park—which once gave Argyros' group of airport boosters $50,000—said future LAX expansion, current freeway widenings and other regional airports would be sufficient to move tourists to and from its hyperreal and hyperexpensive attractions.
County officials like Smith—who had actually believed earlier El Toro propaganda saying the airport would attract "international tourists to our county despite stiff competition from Silicon Valley, Los Angeles and San Diego"—were dumbfounded.
It's hard to sympathize with them, considering it's common knowledge that passenger use at John Wayne Airport dropped for the past two years. Despite the county's mailers and speeches, the demand for an international airport at El Toro simply doesn't exist. More and more people recognize that. Someday—hopefully soon—the county will finally join them and move its attention elsewhere. It could start with the deplorable state of the county's roads, beaches and public transport.