Lie the Friendly Skies

The vote on the anti-airport Measure F is less than two weeks away, and as they've done in the past, supporters of a massive international airport at El Toro will publish whatever lies they deem necessary to push the vote their way.

On Feb. 17, we received our copy of the Winter 2000 edition of “Orange County Report”—a slick mailer displaying a photo of a white-bread family with two kids playing airplane in a lush green park. The mailer comes from the pro-airport group Citizens for Jobs and the Economy (CJ&E)—a front for bazillionaire developer George Argyros' Arnel Development, whose office appears on the mailer as a return address. This makes sense, since Argyros is the only citizen who actually contributes to CJ&E.

The big foldout mailer calls the county's proposed El Toro International Airport “a fair and sensible solution” to a problem that's described only as “our long-term commercial aviation needs.” The mailer includes a full-page map of the proposed facility, showing the actual airport as nothing more than a simplistic runway outline with a less-than-thumbprint-sized rendition of the “21st-century terminal, business and hotel complex.” The only color and detail on the map exist in the portions representing the golf courses, farmland and parkland that are supposed to surround the airport.

These are simple manipulations designed to make the airport seem modest in scale. But the mailer also contains outright lies concerning the safety, funding and operation of the proposed airport. Here are four:

LIE: “When somebody says Runway 7 is unsafe, that's simply a misstatement of fact. . . . It is safe. It meets all of the FAA's requirements for safe flying. There is not one fact that can be disputed about that statement.” TRUTH: The quotation comes from former FAA administrator David Hinson, who achieved infamy by once declaring ValuJet “safe.” As we have pointed out, two major commercial pilots' unions, a former FAA associate administrator, a former Department of Transportation inspector general, and numerous local current and former commercial pilots have all said Runway 7's inherent tail winds and uphill grade that forces takeoffs into rising terrain make the runway —which faces Lake Forest—unsafe, especially in situations in which an aircraft's engine fails while departing. As for Runway 7 meeting the FAA's guidelines, the county and the FAA long ago admitted that the runway's 1.55 percent grade violated FAA standards, and the county intends to kick up millions of cubic yards of dirt in an attempt to regrade the runway to FAA specifications. LIE: “El Toro [is] available at no cost to taxpayers. . . . Taxpayers don't pay for airports. For proof, look at your tax bill. There is no entry for John Wayne Airport.” TRUTH: So says Reed Royalty, head of the so-called “Orange County Taxpayers Association.” There's no line on any tax bill for county supervisor salaries, but we're pretty sure the taxpayers pay for those. Royalty's argument is that only airport-bond investors pay for airports. In fact, as county taxpayers now know in the case of San Joaquin Hills toll-road bonds, this isn't always the case. For that road, which has consistently failed to bring in sufficient revenues since its 1995 opening, the county intends to spend $40 million in bankruptcy-recovery money (read: potential general fund money) to keep the road from collapsing completely. When El Toro also fails to bring in sufficient revenues to pay off its bonds, there's no doubt the county would do the same thing. LIE: “Passenger and cargo demand exists.” TRUTH: Passenger use of John Wayne Airport dropped all through 1998 and 1999 and is only now climbing back to 1998 levels. No major airline has expressed interest in opening new facilities at El Toro. United Parcel Service—the nation's largest air-cargo carrier—has already gone on record saying it's happy with its current single-flight-per-day out of John Wayne Airport. LIE: “A new, modern El Toro airport . . . includes no noisy 747 jumbo jets and nighttime flight restrictions.” TRUTH: The county's El Toro Draft Environmental Impact Report states that at least 35 747s will fly in and out of El Toro every day by 2020. In addition, FAA regulations ban all new nighttime flight restrictions. In any case, the county calculated that such restrictions would cut potential cargo flights into El Toro by 60 percent.

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