El Toro's Future?

Tuesday, January 18, 2005
Council wants to convert El Toro into regional airport
By David Zahniser
The San Diego (CA) Union-Tribune

LOS ANGELES – Despite an outcry from Orange County officials, the City Council passed a resolution Tuesday calling for the former El Toro Marine Air Base to be converted into a regional airport that would take some of the pressure off Los Angeles International Airport. The council’s vote coincided with the federal government’s ongoing auction of 3,700 acres of El Toro land. And it resulted in a brief policy spat between two of the council’s transportation experts.

Councilman Tony Cardenas portrayed the El Toro auction as a dud, saying Los Angeles World Airports is the only entity that has voiced a financial interest in the property so far.

“This is not an empty offer. This is not rhetoric,” Cardenas said. “This is not campaign jargon for this person or that. This is about the fact that … LAWA actually has the financial capability to take this project on.”

LAWA, which oversees LAX and three other municipal airports, has offered to spend up to $2 billion over a 99-year period by leasing El Toro for a commercial airport. Federal officials have repeatedly rebuffed that offer, and even some on the council characterized the plan as wishful thinking.

“Doing it the way we’re doing here, when we know it’s dead on arrival in Congress … is absolutely the wrong way to go,” said Councilman Antonio Villaraigosa, who is running for mayor.

That sparked an angry retort from Cardenas, who said he took Villaraigosa’s comments personally. If anyone is showing leadership, it is those who are waging an unpopular, uphill battle, Cardenas said.

“That’s how I was raised,” he said. “You do the right thing, even if it’s not popular.”

Villaraigosa told Cardenas that he was talking about Mayor James Hahn, not anyone on the council.

“I realize you may get emotional from time to time,” he added.

Foes of an Orange County airport accused the council of trying to engineer a “hostile takeover” of El Toro and warned they will do whatever it takes to defeat such an effort.

“I hope you will recognize that El Toro is in Orange County, and that the reuse is our decision to make,” Meg Waters, spokeswoman for the El Toro Reuse Planning Authority, told the council.