Park It Here

If the latest spin campaign is any guide, county officials figure the best way to sell their El Toro International Airport plan is to pretend they're not building an airport.

Last week, the county began asking 300 Irvine Spectrum companies near the El Toro Marine Corps Air Station what they want out of the regional park that officials want to stick on the east side of the proposed airport. The park replaces the base's golf course and the county's earlier "international trade center," which, until late 1998, was supposed to "maximize the economic and 'place-making' energy created by aviation services."

"We want this new regional park to be a real asset for people who live and work near El Toro," county planning manager Bryan Speegle said in a March 11 press release. "This survey gives nearby companies a chance to tell us what's important to their employees while we still have the opportunity to accommodate their needs."

The two-page survey Speegle sent to the Spectrum firms asks for considerable detail on how each company wants to have fun-whether the company would hold picnics at the park, if the company preferred organized or unorganized recreational activities, and how far company employees were willing to travel to enjoy the park. The survey also had companies pick their preferred amenities from a list including ball fields, guided nature trails, bikeways and a skate park.

The only question missing from the survey was whether people would enjoy doing any of this while commercial airliners were flying only a few dozen feet above them.

Of course, the county doesn't see their airport as a detriment to outdoor recreation. "The new El Toro regional park will enhance the quality of life that we all enjoy," Speegle said in the county's release. But the county's attempt to soften their proposed airport with nearby parkland completely misses the point of why large urban centers have parks.

"The park throughout is a single work of art," wrote Central Park designers Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux in 1858, "and as such, subject to the primary law of every work of art, namely, that it shall be framed upon a single, noble motive, to which the design of all its parts in some more or less subtle way shall be confluent and helpful."

In the 19th century, cities such as New York and San Francisco constructed vast urban parks as beautiful, natural places where residents of all social classes could escape industrialized city life. Parks held rolling meadows and dense woods containing trees tall enough to mask the outside world. Parks were simple, quiet places where anyone could go to relax.

In other words, the last place Olmsted and Vaux would put an urban park is next to an international airport. The county is fond of calling the El Toro base reuse a great "opportunity," and it is: El Toro is an opportunity to start democratizing the county. To do that, the park in both the county's airport plan and South County's Millennium Plan must become much larger-at least 1,000 acres, with no nearby airport raining noise and pollution down on the horseback riders and baseball fans.


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