Mythic Propaganda

In the hall of mirrors that houses the county's El Toro International Airport planning office, the words "myth" and "fact" are often used interchangeably. How often do county planners insist El Toro will be "quiet" and "safe," even as evidence mounts that the proposed airport will be neither? Myths become facts and facts become myths with the dark flair of George Orwell's Ministry of Truth.On Feb. 1, 1999, the county showed us their facts and myths in a half-page ad in the Los Angeles Times. Headlined "Heard the one about the planes from El Toro blocking out the sun?" the green-and-purple ad ostensibly corrects four myths surrounding the largest planning project in county history. But the ad really only showed how the county uses misinformation to propel its airport-or-else agenda.The ad starts off with the "myth" that El Toro will be a "giant airport." Instead, the ad says El Toro will just be a "modern, midsized regional airport offering international access, competitive airfares and convenient travel options." There's even a little graph showing three other airports serving many more passengers. But what the graph doesn't show are the cargo projections that have El Toro moving 2.2 million tons of cargo every year-which would make it one of the largest cargo hubs in the U.S.The second "myth" is a county favorite: all of those hundreds of thousands of planes flying in and out every year will make nearby neighborhoods excessively noisy. Relying on the old 65-decibel CNEL data, the ad insists the people living around the airport "will experience little or no noise." In fact, the ad designers neglected to mention that CNEL is an average-meaning people can live in a city the county deemed "quiet" and still hear 80 to 90 decibels at 3 a.m. from a plane passing overhead.Just above a highly selective and deceptive noise chart is the third myth: traffic from the new airport will "strangle" South County. In a creative but specious argument, the ad says the county's airport "generates less than half the traffic of the high-density non-aviation Millennium Plan"-a true, but irrelevant, statement. The county's numbers say the airport will create 160,000 new daily trips, which, as anyone who's ever driven by LAX at 6 p.m. knows, will turn the evening commute on the newly expanded 5 freeway into a parking lot.But the ad saves its best "myth"-that El Toro won't be safe-for the end. "In fact," trumpets the ad, "consultants (selected in part by the Air Line Pilots Association) [say the] proposed takeoffs and departures can be safely conducted at El Toro within all FAA safety standards." Of course, the ad neglects to mention how the Air Line Pilots Association rejected the consultants' final report as unrealistic, or how Mary Schiavo, the former Department of Transportation inspector general, says El Toro's obsolete crossing runways and proximity to hills make it unlikely the FAA will give the county a thumbs-up. But no matter. The county says El Toro will be safe-isn't that enough?

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