In the escalating battle over El Toro, the Newport Beach City Council this week allocated $3.69 million to promote the approval and construction of a commercial airport at the site of the former Marine air base.
The action, approved unanimously at Tuesday's council session, came just a week after the Orange County Board of Supervisors allocated $5 million toward the same end.
"The money will fund an education and information campaign to counter the misinformation and propaganda that has polluted and manipulated the thinking of the citizens of our great Orange County," said Dennis D. O'Neil, a Newport Beach councilman.
"More people are moving into this area, and the demand for air services is increasing. The airplanes from John Wayne Airport take off over Newport, creating a very intrusive noise impact that is devastating and will continue, if John Wayne is expanded, to be very bad for the quality of life in Newport Beach," O'Neil said. "We don't want to satisfy all the air transportation needs for the region. We don't think that's fair, reasonable or right."
El Toro airport opponents, predictably, took a different view.
Newport Beach's action "is a fairly desperate move to try to counter what clearly is the opinion of the people," said L. Allan Songstad Jr., a Laguna Hills councilman and chairman of the El Toro Reuse Planning Authority, a coalition of South County cities that oppose the airport proposal. "It's a concerted effort by the city to convince people that what is really unwanted and unneeded is something that is desirable."
Todd Spitzer, an outspoken airport critic and one of two supervisors who voted against last week's county allocation, which El Toro opponents say they will challenge in court, called Newport's action "a huge mistake" and a disservice.
"We have been sympathetic to protecting them," he said, "but by approving this funding, Newport Beach has taken the gloves off. I think it's a strategy that will backfire. I am very disheartened by their action."
Former Irvine Mayor Christina L. Shea, long a leader in the anti-airport movement, questioned Newport Beach's use of city funds. "Why are these elected officials continually voting to allocate money when the public opinion is clearly saying no?" she said. "It really is a bad expenditure of public monies."
Anti-airport forces, primarily ETRPA and the city of Irvine, have spent about $15 million in recent years to fight the airport plan, Shea acknowledged.
Under Newport Beach's allocation plan, about $150,000 will go directly to the Orange County Regional Airport Authority, which supports construction of a new airport. Deputy City Manager Dave Kiff said the rest of the money will be used over the next 12 months for a public information program.
A tentative plan released by Newport Beach says the program's major components will be bulletins mailed countywide, public opinion polls, community luncheons featuring political and academic experts on aviation, and enhanced media relations, such as press briefings, news conferences, letters to the editor and cable-TV broadcasts.
"We feel a need to present our side of the story," O'Neil said.