Orange County Is Out as Site for New Airport : Search: A staff report, citing major problems with four earlier proposed locations, suggests George Air Force Base in San Bernardino County for study.


Blaming “insurmountable” traffic and environmental problems, an Orange County government staff report Tuesday ruled out using any of four largely local sites recommended for a regional airport but called for more study of a remote location in San Bernardino County’s Mojave Desert.

In a proposal that the Board of Supervisors is expected to approve next Tuesday, the staff endorsed using George Air Force Base, near the town of Adelanto about 80 miles northeast of Anaheim. The Pentagon plans to close the base within three years, and Adelanto has launched a massive campaign to replace the military facility with a civilian “mega-hub” airport.

The San Bernardino location was not studied by the county’s Airport Site Coalition, a group of business and community leaders who spent two years weighing potential locations for a facility that could ease overcrowding at John Wayne Airport.

“We always said in our presentation that George Air Force Base was probably worth an examination,” said coalition member Todd Nicholson, president of the Industrial League of Orange County. “But it (studying that location) would have cost us a bundle of money and time that we felt we didn’t have at that point.”


In a presentation to supervisors in April, the coalition said that it had narrowed its inquiry to four sites: Cristianitos Canyon east of San Juan Capistrano in Orange County, South Camp Pendleton in north San Diego County, Potrero Los Pinos in the Cleveland National Forest in Orange County, and March Air Force Base in Riverside County.

But the county staff report said that Cristianitos Canyon is too close to an environmental preserve, that the military is too strongly opposed to the use of South Camp Pendleton, that Potrero Los Pinos is in an environmentally sensitive forest, and that March Air Force Base is too busy with military aircraft, also citing heavy traffic on freeways leading into the area.

“While recognizing there is demand for air service, the numerous problems with the four sites noted above cannot be ignored,” the staff report stated. ". . . The county’s transportation system has not been designed to accommodate a major new airport.”

Airport Site Coalition officials said Tuesday that they had been expecting the county staff’s rejection of the four sites because several supervisors had indicated their opposition to placing any regional airport in Orange County.

Indeed, Supervisors Don R. Roth and Thomas F. Riley have said that no other local sites would be considered.

“I, for one, don’t want to spend another nickel looking for another site in Orange County,” Roth declared.

Riley added: “You would have greater success trying to land a fighter-bomber right in the middle of Fashion Island,” a Newport Beach shopping center.

The search for a new regional airport site was required in a 1985 court settlement between the county and noise-weary Newport Beach, which lies just west of the John Wayne runway. The settlement terms limit the number of John Wayne passengers to 8.4 million annually through 2005. The airport, which is being expanded, now serves about 4.75 million passengers annually.

“I’m not surprised,” Eugene Moriarty, president of the Orange County Aviation Council, said of the county staff’s findings. The Aviation Council is one of the organizations that joined forces to create the Airport Site Coalition.

Moriarty said the military’s decision to phase out the San Bernardino County air base “came up suddenly as we were finishing our work. If it had come up earlier, George Air Force Base would have been involved in our efforts.”

The county staff report--written by an interdepartmental county task force composed of officials from the environmental management, county administrative and general services agencies--states that the remoteness of George Air Force Base could be countered by the deployment of high-speed trains and monorail systems.

That recommendation was especially welcomed by Roth, who is vice chairman of the California-Nevada Super Speed Train Commission, established two years ago by the legislatures of both states to pursue private development of a 300-m.p.h. rail link between Southern California and Las Vegas.

Although originally dubbed the “gambler’s special” by critics, the high-speed train project is seen by Roth and other supporters, including land developers, as a major local transportation benefit for commuters, especially if it spawns local monorail or light rail service to places such as a regional airport.

Newport Beach Councilman Clarence Turner, a member of the Airport Site Coalition and a force in the 1985 court settlement, said the viability of George Air Force Base remains to be proven. Costly studies would have to determine how many passengers from Orange County might be willing to ride a train each day to get there.

He also said that use of the air base will not necessarily satisfy the terms of the 1985 court settlement over John Wayne Airport “unless it works” to reduce noise there.