Opponents of a proposed airport at the El Toro Marine Corps Air Station engaged in the ultimate irony this holiday weekend: They hired an airplane to buzz across Orange County with a huge "NO EL TORO AIRPORT!" banner in tow.
This new air assault in the long-running political battle over what to do with the closed military base began at noon Saturday as the single-engine plane circled a community festival in Brea before heading to San Clemente and going up the coast to Seal Beach.
"What better thing to do than to beat [airport supporters] at their own game?" said Roger Faubel, a spokesman for the coalition of cities fighting the airport. "We love airplanes, we just don't love El Toro."
Opponents hope people sitting on the beaches, enjoying park picnics and attending various Independence Day festivals will see the banner--and perhaps change their minds about the county's plans for the base. The flights will cost the El Toro Regional Planning Authority, a group made up of South County cities, about $1,500 a day.
"On a weekend like this, you can easily expect that 1 [million] to 2 million people per day will see it," he said. "It's a very cost-effective way of promoting our message, and it's a fun idea."
At least that was the hope.
The plane's first appearance was at the Brea Country Fair, where it had lots of competition for attention.
It soared into view over City Hall Park just as mothers held up their bonnet-covered, lace-decked finalists in the beautiful baby competition. It circled back while the Sam Morrison country band sang a song of grateful love. The twang drowned out the engine hum, then the plane veered away and headed for the coast.
Few at the fair seemed to notice the banner.
"A plane? What banner? Well, no, I didn't see it," said Kurt Thies, 32, of Irvine.
But although he missed the banner, Thies said he already has an opinion on the airport.
"I think it's a good idea, I think it would make it more convenient for people who travel a lot," said Thies, a software company executive who regularly drives from Irvine to Los Angeles International Airport.
His friend, Jim Champlin, disagreed.
An airport at El Toro will lead to congestion, traffic, pollution and a diminished quality of life for South County, he said.
Others simply didn't have airport politics on their minds as they enjoyed the holiday weekend.
"It's just not an issue I follow," said Tim Carman, 56, of Brea. "I haven't heard many people talking about it."