Anti-airport Group Marks its Success

Monday, January 2, 2006
Anti-airport group marks its success
Staff will hold a Feb. 15 victory party and final meeting before storing paperwork.

IRVINE – From the beginning, opponents of the airport plan at the El Toro base said they would throw a grand party once the proposal died.

At last they can. It took a decade for the El Toro Reuse Planning Authority to achieve its goal – the defeat of an international, commercial airport at the old Marine base, and now a 500-person, invitation-only victory bash is scheduled for Feb. 15 at the Irvine Marriott. About the same time, the anti-airport group will meet a final time, and the coalition of 10 south-county cities then will go into “hibernation,” said ETRPA spokeswoman Meg Waters. Though thousands contributed to the fight, Waters said the party will be limited to about 500 because ETRPA only could spend about $25,000, which will come from its treasury. “It’s still public money,” she said.

ETRPA has been hesitant to call the fight over because control of the 3,714-acre land has taken so many twists. But now the group can celebrate.

Last week, Los Angeles World Airports said it has abandoned efforts to secure El Toro as a commercial airport site. Besides Los Angeles International, the group also operates Ontario International Airport and airports in Palmdale and Van Nuys. It wanted an airport at El Toro to relieve congestion at Los Angeles International.

But with the sale of El Toro lands, the group concluded it has “no basis” to pursue the old base, and has no plans to bring the issue to the airport commissioners, said Paul Haney, a LAWA spokesman.

Another pro-El Toro airport group, the Airport Working Group, hopes for an El Toro aviation miracle but has said it is directing its efforts to securing an inland airport – most likely at March Air Reserve Base or San Bernardino International Airport. The group also monitors traffic at John Wayne Airport, which is nearing its 10.3 million annual passenger limit.

All El Toro-related lawsuits have been settled, and no lingering threats remain, Waters said.

Paperwork soon will be shipped to Laguna Hills City Hall, where it will be permanently stored. ETRPA staff in August told participating cities they no longer had to pay their annual fees.

Larry Agran, a board member and Irvine councilman, said the Great Park plan would not exist if it were not for ETRPA’s staff, which he said did an outstanding job. “Our strongest weapon was the ability to use public resources to provide good, solid information as to why an aviation reuse was such a bad idea,” he said.

The group has been relatively quiet the past year as plans advance for the Great Park, the 3,714-acre mix of housing, businesses, athletic fields, museums and parks.

Through the years, ETRPA filed about 15 lawsuits in both state and federal courts to stop the airport plan. It made hundreds of public-records requests.

It organized community surveys, coming up with alternatives to sway the public thoughts away from an airport. Waters’ public-relations company, Waters and Faubel, was paid about $2.5 million in fees working for ETRPA.

Politicians, many with opposing views on almost everything else, banded together to oppose an airport.

“There was a strong sense among everyone, if we don’t stick together, we would lose,” Waters said. “You had people from a very wide range of political opinions who never – in a million years – would have been around the table.”

In the works is a ETRPA documentary, which will cost about $15,000 to create. Cox Communications has agreed to air it through the next year, she said.

In all, ETRPA spent about $24 million to ground the airport. The group was bankrolled mostly by an annual payment by individual cities represented on the board, which provided as little as $45,000 this year to $398,000 in 2001. Irvine alone contributed $5.29 million.

Activist Hanna Hill said she wouldn’t miss the celebration – her ticket from Minnesota to John Wayne Airport has been purchased.

Even though she left Orange County four years ago, she kept fighting from afar. She would write letters to the editor, read local papers daily for updates and frequented a message board on the Web site

“I spent so much time of my life fighting El Toro, I just needed to see it through,” she said.

What is ETRPA?

A “joint-powers authority” whose primary purpose was to develop and promote a non-aviation reuse plan for the former MCAS El Toro site. The group has five staff members, 11 board members (two representing Lake Forest), 11 affiliate members including the Laguna Canyon Conservancy and South Orange County Chambers of Commerce. ETRPA, comprised of only of representatives from the county, Irvine and Lake Forest, formed in 1994. In early 1995, the county withdrew from ETRPA, but rejoined in 2005. In March 1995, ETRPA opened up membership to other cities and eventually was made up of 10 south county cities.

Cities and how much they spent:

  • Irvine: $5,290,000
  • Lake Forest: $4,523,000
  • Mission Viejo: $2,271,000
  • Laguna Hills: $2,271,000
  • Dana Point: $2,271,000 Irvine: $5,290,000
  • Lake Forest: $4,523,000
  • Mission Viejo: $2,271,000
  • Laguna Hills: $2,271,000
  • Dana Point: $2,271,000
  • Laguna Niguel: $2,271,000
  • Laguna Beach: $1,989,000
  • Laguna Woods: $1,358,000
  • Rancho Santa Margarita: $1,158,000
  • Aliso Viejo: $697,000

    Source: ETRPA

    Anti-airport group marks its success GOAL: El Toro Reuse Planning Authority spokeswoman Meg Waters sits in front of some ads used to oppose the El Toro airport plan. Waters’ public-relations company, Waters and Faubel, was paid about $2.5 million in fees working for ETRPA.

    Editors Note: This story is an excellent reason for every aviation proponent to join Cal Pilots. The fight against airports is always about money, regardless of what the opponents say. Just review what Waters? company received and what the cities listed above paid to make sure it would not happen.

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