Foes of an Airport at El Toro Have Their NIMBY Blinders On

U.S. Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Huntington Beach) is chairman of the House Science Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics

There's an unholy alliance at work in Orange County. NIMBY (not in my backyard) Republicans have teamed up with environmental extremist Democrats to orchestrate a well-financed and insidious propaganda campaign. This odd-couple coalition is trying to persuade us that the former Marine air base at El Toro would be unsafe as a civilian airport and would lower our quality of life.

It's laughable, except that polls indicate the public is buying this baloney. Reality is being turned on its head: Marine jets used the base for 40 years, but many Orange County residents now are convinced that it won't be safe for airliners.

Yes, a military version of the Boeing 707 crashed shortly after takeoff at El Toro on a drizzly-foggy morning in 1965. In spite of massive anti-airport propaganda to the contrary, pilot error clearly caused the crash. There were no civilian casualties from that accident because of the huge no-housing buffer areas at the ends of the runways, which would remain. Then as now, safety wasn't an issue. President Nixon routinely flew to and from El Toro between 1968 and 1974.

There has been much made of criticism of El Toro by some airline pilots--who leveled much harsher complaints against LAX, San Francisco, Boston, John Wayne, Dallas-Fort Worth and just about every other major U.S. airport.

Now the anti-airport coalition would have us believe that a "Great Park" is better than a great commercial and transportation center. That's nonsense, the product of a much exaggerated threat of noise and air pollution. The fact is that El Toro still has one of the largest no-housing noise buffer zones in Southern California. Besides that, an airport at the heart of our county will produce less exhaust than the amount now spewing from the millions of cars driving between Orange County and LAX each year.

In addition, if the "Great Park" is created, hundreds of thousands of additional housing units will be built in what is now the buffer area. That traffic and environmental impact will be far worse than any airport. The "Great Park" has other hidden costs: Not only will it produce no tax revenue and suck up every spare dime in our county for years to come at the expense of education, public safety and other important issues, but the county may well pay hundreds of millions of dollars for a mandatory environmental clean-up. Worse still, the "Great Park" could end up just like New York's Central Park--recreational during the day, but a haven for prostitutes, drug addicts and other criminals at night. Build it and they will come.

An airport, on the other hand, would produce a steady flow of tax revenue and good jobs. The airport plan includes a shopping mall with stores and restaurants. With an airport, property values will rise. Without it, taxes will go up, services will go down and property values will fall.

Orange County residents are facing a major decision that will determine the quality of life for the next generation. What an awful spectacle awaits if we turn loose the jackhammers to tear down instead of build up. We don't know where the tons of runway cement will be dumped. For years to come, at a cost of hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars, dump trucks will clog our roads and a gaping scar will mar the heart of our county.

The "Great Charade" is well financed and professionally promoted. It is a comedy to watch but a tragedy to experience, the irrational yet intentional destruction of an asset worth billions of dollars to create a nonfunctional billion-dollar liability. If this unholy alliance wins, Orange County loses.

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