IRVINE : El Toro Air Base on Council Agenda

The City Council tonight will consider writing letters to the U.S. Defense Department and congressional delegates to oppose any civilian use of the El Toro Marine Corps Air Station, where federal inspectors are due Wednesday to explore that idea.

The letters, proposed by outgoing Mayor Larry Agran, were prompted by the scheduled visit by representatives of the General Accounting Office to the El Toro base. The GAO will evaluate the base for possible joint military-civilian use at the request of U.S. Sen. Wendell Ford (D-Ky.).

Possible civilian use of El Toro has been discussed for several years and has been strongly backed by Federal Express and other air cargo companies that want to base overnight package delivery operations there.

But opening the airfield to civilian flights is unlikely, Agran said, because a law introduced last year by Rep. C. Christopher Cox (R-Newport Beach) prohibits commercial use and because the military opposes the idea. But he wants the outgoing council to go on record in opposition.

Tonight's meeting will probably be the last for Agran and council allies Cameron Cosgrove and Edward A. Dornan. Agran and Cosgrove lost their June 5 reelection bids and Dornan did not run for another term.

"I wanted to make sure we got our views on the public record," Agran said Monday.

In addition to writing letters to Defense Secretary Dick Cheney and the Orange County congressional delegation regarding El Toro, Agran proposed that the council write a separate letter to Cheney asking him to stop helicopter operations at the Tustin Marine Corps Air Station.

Although the first letter is mostly symbolic, Agran said, ridding the Tustin base of its helicopters and ultimately closing the base has a better chance of succeeding.

"As world conditions are improving and base closings are being undertaken as part of a program of Pentagon cutbacks, we ought to capitalize on this new reality and express our eagerness to see this particular base closed," he said.

Irvine estimates that 1,980 helicopter flights pass over the city each month. The helicopters jeopardize the safety of Irvine residents every day, Agran said.

Marine Corps officials have stressed that helicopter flights at Tustin have hurt no civilians in Irvine.

Even so, as the open space disappears around the Tustin base, the threat to residents increases, Agran said.

The Marine Corps uses several air routes to helicopter training fields outside the city. Most of the noise complaints come from residents of Woodbridge and other neighborhoods underneath a flight path linking the Tustin base with the ocean.

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