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No Need for Hasty Decision on Airport : The Public Is Rightfully Confused About Measure A

November 06, 1994

In recent days, it has become clearer that there is a division between a select group of special interest people who want to pull out all the stops for an airport at El Toro Marine Corps Air Station and much of the public, which is far more prudent by nature.

And what it comes down to is this: The public's confusion over Measure A, as evidenced in a recent Times Orange County poll, is understandable and instructive. The initiative calls for a commercial airport at El Toro and would close off discussion of alternative uses for the last remaining large parcel of open space in the county. What the public seems to be saying, and correctly so, is that it is much too early to be doing that.

In recent weeks, money from development interests has flooded the pro-Measure A campaign in a desperate attempt to pump up support of the initiative and create a false sense of urgency. Advocates say they want an airport for the future, and that the decision absolutely must be made now. But that is not the case. The rush to judgment is an artificially constructed predicament set against an unnecessarily hasty deadline.

The public is understandably reluctant to commit heart and soul to the dream of a few movers and shakers before all the information is in. A Times Orange County Poll published a week ago found that the public still can't decide on this issue. Supporters and opponents were almost dead even, and most important, there was a substantial portion of the electorate that was undecided. While a large number of people say an airport would create jobs and improve the economy, there were fewer than 25% who thought for certain that a commercial airport would be the most fiscally sound use of the base, and that it would cost taxpayers less to develop and will generate more tax revenues than other possible future uses.

What this ought to suggest is what we have been saying all along. An airport well may be a good idea for El Toro, but we do not know enough at this point about it to commit to it, and we do not know whether it is the best possible use for the base. Accordingly, people seem to be resisting jumping to the conclusion that they should rule out other possibilities. And they shouldn't have to.

The public is right if it does not want to close the door just yet on future discussion of uses for the base. That is especially understandable, and it is especially wise when one stops to consider that waiting to make a decision on the base will allow all options, including an airport, to be explored thoroughly. The way to deal with that set of circumstances is to vote "no" on Measure A.

It would have been one thing if the community was forced to make a fast decision on the base after the Defense Department had decided to close. But the length of time left until the base is turned over to the community gives the local community the luxury of deliberation. The proponents of Measure A want Orange County to forfeit this advantage to preclude other possibilities.

What voters need to understand on Tuesday, is that a "no" vote on Measure A does not rule out the possibility of using El Toro as an airport, or as anything else for that matter.

Indeed, even those who believe now that an airport is best still would be wise to vote "no" on Measure A. That way, the planning group now in place, which only recently has begun to do its work, can be given full play to assess the cost.

Let's not preclude the possibility of other choices, and let's explore the many questions that voters seem to have about the cost and benefits of the airport idea.

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