Firm Enlisted to Fight Civil Use of Base

Times Staff Writer

The City of Irvine has hired a public relations firm to drum up opposition to opening nearby El Toro Marine Corps Air Station to commercial jets.

Irvine officials oppose joint use of the El Toro base by civilian jets and military aircraft, claiming that it would create noise, traffic and safety problems on the city's eastern flank. But some Newport Beach residents say the commercialization of the base is the only way to take pressure off John Wayne Airport, where flights are restricted, and meet Orange County's growing demand for commercial air service.

The Irvine City Council voted 5 to 0 Tuesday night to spend $56,000 during the next six months to rally residents in Irvine and neighboring communities against commercial use of the Marine air field.

Earlier Campaign

The city championed a similar public campaign against commercialization of the El Toro base in the early 1970s.

The Marines also oppose sharing the base, a tactical air field with a strategic location near the ocean, desert bombing ranges and Camp Pendleton, one of the biggest Marine bases in the country. El Toro is also home to some of the most sophisticated fighter jets and bombers in America's defense arsenal.

The council's action Tuesday comes less than a week before the Federal Aviation Administration is scheduled to begin a study ordered by Congress of the feasibility of opening El Toro to commercial passenger flights.

The Irvine council hired Adler Droz Inc., an Irvine firm, to coordinate the campaign, which is expected to involve two other companies, Paine & Associates and Opinion Research of California, a Long Beach-based public opinion survey firm.

Although details have not been formulated, Fred Droz said his company plans to inform residents throughout the Saddleback Valley about the FAA study and arguments for blocking commercial carriers from operating there.

Direct mail, advertising and possibly phone banks will be used, Droz said. Residents and community leaders also might be surveyed.

'Ill-Advised Solution

David Paine, who will work with Droz, said dual use of the base is an "ill-fated and ill-advised" approach to solving the region's need for another major airport. He said some people look at the base as "a savior" in the emotional airport debate, "but frankly, it will create more problems than it solves."

Paine acknowledged that the county probably will outgrow John Wayne Airport in the next decade, but he said policy makers must look to existing airports, such as Long Beach or Ontario, or push plans to build a new airport in north San Diego County.

This is not the first airport battle for Paine, who lobbied on behalf of Newport Beach residents who forced the county several years ago to limit commercial flights at John Wayne Airport. Ironically, many of those same Newport Beach residents support commercial use of El Toro as a way to reduce flights at John Wayne and jet noise over their city.

"I have a lot of friends in Newport Beach who probably would like to see El Toro used as a commercial airport," Paine said. "But my job is to make sure it doesn't happen because it is not the best solution."

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