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Park and Library Top List for Foes of El Toro Airport

Reuse: Project '99 survey respondents also embrace ideas of building a college or museums when Marine base closes.


A sprawling park and library, a college campus and museums top the list of alternatives to a commercial airport at the retiring El Toro Marine Corps Air Station, according to a survey of more than 800 airport opponents.

The results aren't surprising. At least one critic called them "inconsequential." But Alan Ellstrand, a spokesman for Project '99, said the survey is an important part of South County's strategy to fight an airport by coming up with an attractive alternative.

Project '99, an Irvine-based group helping to lead the fight against an airport, mailed surveys to 4,500 households in south and central Orange County. Residents were asked to rank 20 potential uses for the base when the military retires it in mid-1999. Just over 800 people responded, Ellstrand said.

A park and library topped the list, while prisons and jails ranked last. There were some unusual results. Retail stores, tourist attractions and residential uses--options that some airport opponents have embraced--ranked at the bottom of the list, along with a cemetery.

"People are saying, 'Enough. There's been enough development in this part of the county,' " Ellstrand said. While viable proposals for the base would require a much more complex outline, the survey offers a place to start, he said.

Newport Beach City Councilman Thomas C. Edwards, whose city supports an airport at El Toro as a way to curb traffic at John Wayne Airport, said he wasn't impressed by the survey.

"The results are pretty inconsequential," he said. "If you asked people elsewhere about an airport, that would top the list."

Following the lead of countywide voters, the Orange County Board of Supervisors voted in December to endorse development of a commercial airport. Supporters contend an airport would bring jobs and help the economy, but many South County residents who live closest to the base oppose it because of concerns about noise, traffic, pollution and safety.

"We've spent a lot of time talking about what's wrong with an airport," Ellstrand said. "It's time to extend the debate and discuss what would be some really positive things to do with the base."


If Not an Airport . . .

Project '99 asked supporters to rank alternatives to a commercial airport at El Toro Marine Corps Air Station. The top alternatives:

1. Sprawling central park and library

2. UC Irvine-style educational campus

3. Museums and cultural centers

4. Art and entertainment

5. Wildlife nature preserve

6. Variety of recreational uses

7. High-tech research facilities

8. Transportation center

9. Agriculture

10. Movie and television studios

Source: Project '99; Researched by RENE LYNCH / Los Angeles Times

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