Send in the Marines to End Argument Over an O.C. Airport

John Graham is a professor of international business at the Graduate School of Management at UC Irvine. He recently was the Democratic candidate for Congress in the 47th congressional district

International trade brings Southern Californians unparalleled prosperity and peace. But the gateway to our trade, Los Angeles International Airport, is now beginning to resemble a bad Three Stooges routine: Moe, Larry and Curly all trying to walk through a door at the same time. This bottleneck to trade is not just a problem for Orange County commerce. San Diego/Tijuana is in the same fix. Neither Brown Field nor Miramar have proved to be viable options there; and here, neither has El Toro.

The El Toro airport distraction has amazing legs. I thought it was dead with the passage of Measure F. Of course, the law involved was and is debatable. However, you’d think the Orange County supervisors would read something from the huge majority expressing its disdain for an El Toro airport.

I’ve learned that apparently Orange County supervisors (at least three of them) have a long history of not reading things. Take for example the reports presented them written by the Southern California Assn. of Governments. Separate reports in 1972, 1982 and 1990 recommended the southern part of Camp Pendleton as a viable site for an international airport.

What killed the discussion of the Camp Pendleton option? After consulting directly with the mayor of Newport Beach, Orange County supervisors nixed it in June 1990. They can’t actually have read the SCAG reports. And now El Toro is back on the table, again and again and again. I think it’s time to reconsider Camp Pendleton.


Let’s say you’ve been called to a meeting in New York, Paris, or Tokyo. If you live in Irvine, that means an hour (if you’re lucky) car ride up to that mess of LAX. If you live in Del Mar, that means a 30-minute (if you’re lucky) ride down to the San Diego airport of steep thrills, a 30-minute flight up to LAX and whatever time it takes to make your connection there. I’ve done the Irvine trip many times; it’s not fun.

Now imagine the same flights leaving from southern Camp Pendleton--let’s call it Pendleton International. You drive over to the Irvine (or Solana Beach) train station, check your bag, and start your novel on the fast train ride down (or up) to Pendleton International. I suggest a seaside seat for the 35-minute, 89-mph trip to/from the Irvine depot. This is how things are done in civilized places like Amsterdam/Schiphol, Osaka/Kansai and London/Heathrow. Fast trains run from those cities to their respective airports.

The rail line is already there. And let’s not forget that one rail line can carry the same traffic as 15 lanes of freeway. Recall the nightmare traffic at LAX during the holidays. In fact, if done right, all the employment contracts for the service providers would include train passes. The clerks, cooks, controllers, mechanics, and pilots also would have easy commutes, even from north Orange County.

You say the Marines won’t give up the space? That’s what they said about El Toro. I’ve worked with Marines before. In the 1970s, my Navy unit supported practice amphibious landings along that 15 miles of coastline. However, beach landings (the best argument against a joint-use airport there) haven’t been used since the Korean War. The Marines don’t need big beaches anymore.


Indeed, perhaps more relevant in the years to come will be securing or assaulting airports in foreign lands. Pendleton International might provide a unique training venue on occasion. Did you know that on Sundays the links at St. Andrews in Scotland are opened to the public for recreational uses other than golf--walks and picnics and such? Perhaps Pendleton International might be closed to civilian use on the last day of each month and made available for military training exercises. There are all kinds of joint-use possibilities if we think and negotiate creatively.

Look at a map of Southern California: Square in the center between LAX and San Diego is Camp Pendleton. A major international airport at Pendleton would serve both San Diego and Orange counties and 6 million citizens well. An airport there would relieve much of the coming pressures on John Wayne Airport and LAX. Recently, we sat outside at Sage, a trendy East Bluff (Newport Beach) restaurant where I’m sure supervisors have supped before. The jet noise was distracting. May I suggest that those same supervisors review those old reports (they’re at the UCI library), take a drive down to the southern end of Camp Pendleton and look around with their San Diego counterparts.