Photo by James BunoanThe reason the old El Toro Marine Corps Air Station will never become an international airport is because most county residents felt it was a disaster waiting to happen. A lot of that attitude came about because of the eltoroairport.org website set up by airport foe Len Kranser.
"A lot of what activism is now is phones, computers and lists," says the conservative, retired South County businessman. "The part of activism that produces change today is not so rowdy as it used to be."
Before the county's first El Toro Environmental Impact Report came out in the summer of 1996, Kranser was just another foot soldier in the fight against the airport, working phone banks and gathering petition signatures. His opposition to the airport wasn't born simply because his Monarch Bay home was directly under the proposed flight path. He was also concerned with his 93-year-old mother-in-law living in the Laguna Woods Leisure World.
"She was one of the reasons I became active," Kranser said. "That, and I just hated the county's arrogance."
Then at one El Toro meeting, an activist stood up and said the movement needed a website for up-to-date information.
"I knew about similar websites," said Kranser. "I did a lot of writing over the years—short stories in high school, sports editor in college, I edited some management books and wrote a travel story about Cambodia. So I talked to him after the meeting."
Kranser and his partner started with a Pentium computer, modem, Word for Windows and some free website-designing software he downloaded from Netscape. As airport news—local and national—occurred, he posted it. He then added a giant Internet library of articles and statistics covering every aspect of airport science—environmental concerns, design issues, aeronautics and politics.
"Originally, we were just typing letters and documents on the web page," said Kranser. "Then we got a scanner, and it got a lot easier. One of our strengths is our large virtual network of reporters. I don't think our staff has ever gotten together in the same place at the same time."
Today, Kranser's El Toro site has an e-mail list bursting with more than 17,000 addresses. In the hot times of the El Toro fight, his site was getting 10 times the hits as the county's now-defunct Eltorofacts.org.
Born in the Bronx, Kranser's father was a New York City cab driver. Kranser the younger eventually got an engineering degree from Rensselaer, then entered the Navy at the tail end of the Korean War. He was assigned to the civil engineer corps. "I ended up running the maintenance department at a large supply depot in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania. But I learned a lot."
After the Navy, Kranser earned an MS from MIT and an MBA from Harvard Business School. After working for the Gillette Co. for seven years, holding posts like chief industrial engineer and head of razor quality, Kranser moved on to a "pretty aggressive conglomerate" in Massachusetts.
He moved to Southern California in 1968 to take charge of an industrial nameplate manufacturer in El Monte that had recently been acquired by the conglomerate. Kranser ran the company until 1976, when he hocked everything he owned to buy it.
It was a risky venture. "But the reward was worth it," he said. "It's why we have an ocean view now." In 1993, Kranser sold the company to his vice president and retired, moving to Monarch Bay.
With the fight over the airport over since March, Kranser has spent the past few months describing his grassroots Internet organizing experiences in a new book called Internet for Activists. Kranser wrote the book because he likes "to teach, especially at the working-adult level. The book is an opportunity to share the things we learned."
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Internet for Activists was inspired by an e-mail from Jean O. Pasco, the longtime Orange County political reporter for the Los Angeles Times. Copies of the book are available at Amazon.com and Barnesandnoble.com. After an order is placed on one of the sites, computerized publishing equipment spits out a book in about one minute, fulfilling the order. The system is great, but because there's no inventory, bookstores won't carry the book.
In the future, Kranser says the website "may become more of a news-gathering organization than a news-making one." As for his own political future, Kranser is more definite.
"I'm not a politician. I'm 70. I'm not good with names. I don't like glad handing. I've been treasurer of our homeowners association for five years. I like the job, but I wouldn't want to be president and have to take irate calls from the neighbors."
Internet for Activists by Leonard Kranser; iUniverse. Paperback, 210 pages, $16.95; Kranser signs his book at Borders, 25222 El Paseo, Mission Viejo, (949) 367-0005. Oct. 5, 2 p.m.