Delayed Gratification

Air travelers understand delays. Spending an extra 15 or 20 minutes in freeway traffic is nothing: it takes a few hours of resting your feet on luggage while sitting in a hard-plastic seat at some airport gate, alternately staring at fellow travelers, the watch, baggage carts, the watch, aircraft tugs and your watch, to comprehend the special misery behind the word “delayed.”

Now all county residents can share that kind of worried anticipation. On Aug. 4, county officials announced they would delay releasing their long-awaited El Toro Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for three months. That report—which will detail the county's “final” airport design—has been under development for nearly three years. Because of the EIR delay, the county Board of Supervisors will also have to push back their final El Toro authorization vote from December 1999 to at least May 2000.

County officials announced all this at an 11 a.m. press conference outlining the latest El Toro technical report. (Because the county delayed faxing to us the media alert announcing the conference, no one from the Weeklyattended.) According to accounts in the Los Angeles Times and The Orange County Register, county officials served up the same old excuses for their failures.

“This is the largest public-works project the county has ever been involved in, and I wanted to make sure that it came out right,” Michael Lapin, county El Toro planning manager, reportedly told the Register. To the Times, Lapin explained that “this doesn't represent any slippage but shows responsible planning.”

Responsible planning. Remember the county's original 1996 plan for a 38 million-annual-passenger (MAP) airport, which was later rejected in favor of a 24 MAP airport surrounded by commercial development and linked to John Wayne Airport, which was later rejected in favor of a 24 MAP airport surrounded by parkland and linked to John Wayne Airport, which was later rejected in favor of a 29 MAP airport still surrounded by parkland but not linked to John Wayne Airport?

Then there's the county's million-dollar flight tests that produced no usable data. And the county's inability to negotiate a master lease with the Navy Department, which led to the county's inability to stick to its oft-repeated game plan of starting interim cargo flights at El Toro on July 4. On top of all that, there's still the problem of runway design, a problem only heightening opposition to the county's latest airport configuration.

All that “responsible planning” took five years and cost more than $40 million. Yet county officials still haven't supplied realistic cost figures for the airport itself. Ultimately, this latest delay means residents will have to wait even longer to find out how big a disaster El Toro will really be.

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