Spin Recycle

Photo by Myles RobinsonWith all the elegance of a 1978 Pinto with a busted muffler, the Orange County Board of Supervisors finally approved the El Toro Airport Master Plan last week after a month of false starts and delays. To celebrate, county airport officials sent out a triumphant three-page press release with the exciting headline "Orange County Board of Supervisors Certifies EIR 573." We thought it worthwhile to expand on a few of its more colorful pronouncements, since they nicely exemplify the county's completely useless war over El Toro.

"The vote represents an important milestone in an extensive seven-year planning process."

This is a creative way of saying the agonizing 17 months of delays in getting the final El Toro Environmental Impact Report (EIR) signed off on by the county supes are finally at an end. Remember, the Marines left El Toro more than two years ago. County airport-planning officials wanted the EIR approved in May 2000, but they were sidetracked by the passage of Measure F. Of course, county officials also wanted to begin interim cargo flights at the airfield just two days after the Marines left, but that has been postponed indefinitely. As for how much longer the "extensive planning process" will continue, that's anyone's guess.

"The board decided to instead approve a smaller, 18.8 MAP [million annual passengers] airport and leave the question of further expanding the facility to future Boards of Supervisors."

The threat of airport expansion has always been left to future local governments. Airports expand, as the residents of Inglewood, El Segundo, Long Beach and Newport Beach know only too well. Even if the board had approved an airport handling just a couple of million passengers per year, the people who live around El Toro would still oppose it because of the probability that it would grow in the coming decades. The only way to prevent future airport expansion is to make sure there's no airport to expand.

"It represents a balanced solution to the challenge we face in meeting our growing local and regional air-travel demands."

This statement was shaky even before the massive falloff in air travel following the Sept. 11 hijackings. Southern California suffers from a glut of airports: LA, Burbank, Long Beach, Ontario, John Wayne, Palmdale, Riverside, Victorville and San Bernardino. The last four were struggling to get flights before the hijackings. Actually, Riverside and Victorville have seen an explosion of interest since Sept. 11—in mothballing unused and unneeded commercial airliners.

"Today Orange County has one of the strongest economies in the country."

True, but this is actually an argument against the airport. All that economic growth occurred with just little John Wayne Airport serving 7.5 million passengers per year. You'd think that if future growth hinged on expanded air travel, local corporations and tourist destinations would be demanding it. You'd think that, but you'd be wrong. Disneyland, by far the largest tourist attraction in Southern California, said a couple of years ago it saw no need for a new international airport at El Toro.

"It will create close to 69,000 new jobs and $6.84 billion in economic activity and drive nearly $450 million in annual local and state government tax revenues into the area."

These numbers come from the pro-airport Orange County Business Council (OCBC). Whether they are more or less legit than previous county estimates of economic growth is a dice shoot. The OCBC and the county have previously said airports larger than the one approved last week would create anywhere from 16,000 to 32,000 to 30,000 to 21,000 jobs. The other figures have seen similar fluctuation.

"The existing infrastructure is a national asset and would cost billions to replicate."

Actually, it will cost $3 billion just to turn the existing El Toro base into a commercial airport with the current inefficient, plus-sign runway layout. Then again, this particular statement in the release doesn't mean much anyway, as it comes from Florida Congressman John Mica, who mailed his pro-El Toro comments to the Orange County Board of Supervisors in Santa Anita, California.

"We are ready to move forward and begin the implementation of the Airport Open Space and Master Plan today."

Glad to hear it, except it's called "The Airport and Open Space Master Plan."

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