Newport Beach developer Buck Johns, one of the county's most active Republican fund-raisers, played a key role in putting Measure A on the ballot last November. The measure requires construction of a commercial airport at the El Toro Marine Corps Air Station after the base closes in 1999. It was approved by a slim majority of county voters and is now under attack by the South County anti - airport group, Taxpayers for Responsible Planning.
The group hopes to collect enough signatures by Oct. 24 to put a measure on the March primary ballot that would ask voters to nullify Measure A. Johns spoke with Times correspondent Russ Loar about Measure A.
Q: Measure A opponents say voters were misled by claims of inadequate capacity at John Wayne Airport and economic benefits to the county from an airport at El Toro. Were the voters misled?
A: It's a political ploy. Those people who have studied this issue know that air transportation services in the megalopolis of Orange County are woefully inadequate. But the federal government hands us the answer in the form of [El Toro Marine base]. What we need to do, if we're going to . . . have the vibrant economy that we want to encourage, we're going to have to solve our air transportation needs. This will do it.
Q: What are the advantages of putting a commercial airport at the El Toro Marine base?
A: When you see that the air cargo needs of Orange County keep going up every day and you look at the global nature of economic competition, we're being throttled by having inadequate air transportation services. And like it or not, we're a tourist mecca. But in order to get here, you have to fly into LAX.
Q: Officials from South County cities say it's unfair for voters in the northern part of the county to mandate an El Toro airport in somebody else's back yard.
A: There is no question that people are going to be positively and negatively impacted by having things like this located right next to them. But what better place to have this than at a place that has already been subjected to a great deal of irritation by a great number of military planes?
Q: Your critics say one of the motives of Measure A backers was to protect Newport Beach homes from aircraft noise. They say John Wayne can be expanded to accommodate the county's air transportation needs.
A: We have a very small facility over there that can only handle short-haul flights. It will not be able to serve the needs of Orange County as we move into the 21st Century. They can make that debate, but study after study shows otherwise. We'll never get 19,000 acres of clear zone like we have at El Toro around the 500-acre John Wayne Airport.