In the search for ways out of bankruptcy, there may be no harm in exploring the idea of transferring John Wayne Airport to the Orange County Transportation Authority. Any and all ideas are worth examining to a point.
But the notion of doing something different with the airport, either trying to sell it or transfer ownership, has been talked about previously during the recovery efforts. The latest idea wouldn't seem to accomplish much other than consolidating bureaucratic control in the hands of the authority. That might create a true county transportation czar, but otherwise it's not clear that there is any real benefit to the county.
The idea of an outright sale of the airport already has been largely discredited because airport revenue must stay on site and any potential purchaser would face a host of obstacles resulting from federal requirements related to the operation. Future purchasers would have the matter of the fate of the El Toro Marine Corps Air Station to worry about before making the investment.
But the latest line of exploration has had Supervisors Roger R. Stanton and William G. Steiner seeking a study. The point would be to try to raise needed cash from the OCTA through the transfer. But it is by no means clear what benefit there would be in this exchange, even if possible. The board deadlocked Tuesday night over the obvious question of whether such a study would be a wasted effort, especially in the aftermath of the defeat of the sales tax measure for bankruptcy recovery.
Under the plan as discussed so far, the OCTA envisions giving the county roughly $350 million for first development rights at the El Toro Marine Corps Air Station, and then taking over John Wayne Airport. The money for the purchase would come from Measure M transportation sales tax funds, but these funds are earmarked already, and the voters did not approve such a use. The complications of redirecting Measure M funds are considerable.
This sounds like a far-fetched scheme that at best would redirect funds that the voters allocated for specific transportation purposes, perhaps putting money earmarked for projects at risk, and engaging in some empire building for the OCTA. Supervisor Marian Bergeson and others were correct to criticize the proposal. Tinkering with the airport seems to die hard as a way of bankruptcy recovery.
The transfer idea is one that likely would violate the basic premise of keeping faith with voters.