Purchase Ensures End to Dreams of An El Toro Airport

Sunday, February 27, 2005
Purchase Ensures End to Dreams of An El Toro Airport
The Newport Beach (CA) Daily Pilot
Over the years, letter writers Donald Nyre of Newport Beach and Shirley Conger of Corona del Mar have done their best to keep alive the hopes of those who believed the closed El Toro Marine base would make a perfect airport to serve the needs of a burgeoning Orange County. The perseverance of Nyre, Conger and others affiliated with the Newport Beach-based Airport Working Group has been admirable as the decade-old plan to build the airport faced hurdle after hurdle, ballot after ballot and the onslaught of South County forces, which rallied to kill the dream of another county airport to take pressure off John Wayne.

Alas, the El Toro airport wasn’t to be.

Under the guise of a Great Park, the voters in Orange County voted to rezone the El Toro land to non-airport use, prompting the U.S. Navy to sell off the 3,718-acre former air station in an auction last week to home developer Lennar Corp. for $649.5 million.

If it wasn’t already apparent, the purchase spelled the end to the dreams for an El Toro airport once and for all. And it prompted Conger to ask in a letter to the editor this week: “My question is, when will we the public realize what we have lost?”

Make no mistake, the loss is substantial and costly.

The planning for the proposed airport at El Toro came at a price tag of more than $50 million, $10 million of which was paid by the city of Newport Beach alone.

Publicity agents and political operatives here and in South County got rich off the deal. For their $10 million, the people of Newport Beach were left unfairly characterized as selfish NIMBY’s and county bullies.

The facts surrounding El Toro and its suitability as an airport didn’t stand a chance in the court of public opinion, where emotion always carries the day.

Still, the Nyres and Congers kept the faith and the dream alive, only to have it dashed pretty harshly with this week’s auction-sale news.

Now, the best hope for El Toro is to hold accountable those who propagated the Great Park idea and ensure the land is made available for all in Orange County to use.

The best hope for air traffic demand is to look for other alternatives, most likely in other counties, and to enlist the help of Congress and others to keep John Wayne Airport expansion at bay.

We owe a debt of gratitude to Nyre, Conger and the Airport Working Group for their willingness to spend their precious time to fight for a cause they believe in.

And we know the day will come when Conger’s question will be answered and the public will realize that it has lost a valuable commodity to more tract homes, more cars, more commerce and, especially, more demand for air travel that will need to be satiated.