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Base Closures Have a Human Equation Also

July 11, 1993

* Over the last few months, we have debated the economic and military value of the El Toro and Tustin Marine air bases. We have read about the disparity in cost estimates offered by the various interested parties. We have listened to those who have argued in favor of replacing the El Toro base with a commercial airport, while those who live under the flight paths have lobbied to keep the base open fearing that a commercial air facility will be noisier.

Now that both bases have been recommended for closure, I find myself reflecting on something that cannot be measured in dollars or decibels: the substantial contribution which the thousands of Marines, sailors and their families make to the character of Orange County.

For the time being, the two bases will continue to bring to our county a diverse cross-section of Americans: farmers from the Midwest, young men and women from the streets of big cities, Southerners, Texans, talented leaders and gifted technicians.

Wherever they may be from, these folks are "down home." They are the first to help a neighbor, aid a motorist in distress, give blood, support our jog-a-thons, fill sandbags when there is flooding, and go wherever volunteers are sought.

These men and women of our Armed Forces help to keep us connected to the rest of America, where homes are not all beige stucco.

For the past few months we have viewed them mostly in terms of their spending power. Our economy will adapt, but I foresee a time in the future after the bases are closed when we will look around and wonder why things just seem different. San Diego's gain will be our loss.

Having a military presence is part of Orange County, and losing it will surely bring a significant change to the character of our county.

Many of the Marines serving at the El Toro or Tustin base eventually settle here, as my wife and I did. For others, such as many military retirees, the support and services offered by the air bases (e.g., medical clinic, commissary, clubs), was an influencing factor in choosing to settle in Orange County. After all, these were benefits career service members looked forward to.

Now that the bases are slated for closure, Orange County will be less of a draw to this sector of our citizenship, and some may follow the bases to San Diego County.

Since it will take years to shut down the two air bases, these changes are apt to creep up on us. Therefore I think it is appropriate to reflect on these human costs and to appreciate our military neighbors while they are still here.



* Why is it that you seem to print a preponderance of letters opposing the use of the El Toro facility as a commercial airport?

All the communities that so vociferously oppose the use of El Toro as an airport grew up around the El Toro airport after it had been operating for some time and with full knowledge and daily experience that military aircraft are extremely noisy. On the other hand, the Orange County airport was never a commercial airport until well after the areas under its flight path had been well developed as quiet residential areas and had no expectations of the noise problem to which they would become subjected.

The main usage of the existing airport is by businesses and residents of the areas, particularly Irvine, that developed around the El Toro airport, yet they are the ones that are screaming the most that they should not be subjected to the noise of an airport!

What in the world is wrong with having two airports to share the load? Why should John Wayne be continuously expanded, and the residents of Newport Beach be continuously bombarded with more and more noise, just to meet the needs of the businesses and residents of the areas around El Toro as they keep expanding?

El Toro is an airport that can easily and inexpensively be converted to commercial use, and, with reasonable controls, would probably be no noisier than it is now.


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