El Toro- Why is Anti Airport Group Getting Monetary Support from These Cities?

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Anti-airport group not disbanding just yet
But El Toro Reuse Planning Authority hopes to be done collecting cash from its member cities.
By ERIKA I. RITCHIE
The Orange County (CA) Register
IRVINE – There’ll be no checks in the mail for the El Toro Reuse Planning Authority if the anti- airport group has its way. The organization – comprising 10 south-county cities that for more than a decade opposed conversion of the former El Toro Marine base into a commercial airport – hopes to call it a battle won.

“We think we’ll have enough cash to carry us until we close up shop,” said Paul Eckles, executive director. “We don’t think we’ll ask our member cities for anything. Our mission has been to promote non-airport use. When we’re absolutely certain we have no threat, our doors will close.”

Those cities – Irvine, Lake Forest, Mission Viejo, Laguna Hills, Dana Point, Laguna Niguel, Laguna Beach, Laguna Woods, Rancho Santa Margarita and Aliso Viejo – have paid annually to stay involved in the anti-airport fight. The cost has ranged from as little as $45,000 this year to $398,000 in the heat of the fight in 2001.

Laguna Beach Councilwoman Cheryl Kinsman is waiting for jackhammers to rattle on the runways before she’s convinced the fight is over.

“There were times we thought we were at the end, but hot spots crept up,” she said. “ETRPA is making sure every fire is dead-out.”

Plans for a Great Park at the base are moving ahead. Lennar Corp. had the winning bid for the 3,718-acre site in July and intends to develop it with housing, wilderness areas, athletic fields, museums and other public amenities.

Still, members are keeping watch to see how state lawmakers deal with legislation backed by former Los Angeles Mayor James Hahn to convert El Toro as a possible solution to regional airport needs.

“We don’t see any immediate signs,” Eckles said.

City officials have a range of plans for the money they had been putting into the airport fight.

Bert Hack, vice chairman of the group and a Laguna Woods councilman, said his city will be able to fund more programs for seniors.

Hack, who urged cityhood for Laguna Woods to combat the airport, said the city’s contribution was worthwhile.

“We were less than two miles from touchdown,” he said. “Having an aging population, we had tremendous risks. Paying the money was like having insurance. It’s minuscule to the potential loss of life and property values.”

In Lake Forest, Mayor Peter Herzog said the potential of an airport practically froze city efforts in other areas.

“Big-vision stuff got put on hold,” Herzog said. “We thought about insulating houses rather than putting in sports parks.”

Many residents, including United Airlines Capt. Todd Thornton, are happy to see the book closing on the airport. And others see the good that came out of the fight.

“The El Toro airport was a blessing in disguise; it united south Orange County,” said Jim Richert, who coordinated residents’ opposition to an airport. “It improved communication with people in the county. From that has sprung a lot of communication on other issues.”

WHAT IT COST

Here is the money 10 cities and the county paid toward the fight against an airport at the former El Toro Marine base.

Member cities Date joined Money paid
Irvine 1994 $5,290,000
Lake Forest 1994 $4,523,000
Mission Viejo 1995 $2,271,000
Laguna Hills 1995 $2,271,000
Dana Point 1995 $2,271,000
Laguna Niguel 1995 $2,271,000
Laguna Beach 1997 $1,989,000
Laguna Woods 1999 $1,358,000
Rancho Santa Margarita 2000 $1,158,000
Aliso Viejo 2001 $697,000
Orange County 1994, 2005 $1,353
Total $24,100,353

Source: ETRPA

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