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LAGUNA HILLS

Southwest Exec Lauds Airport at El Toro Base

Commerce: Laguna Hills mayor calls for a boycott of the airline as a result of comments made by firm's director of business properties.

May 11, 1999|JEAN O. PASCO and JAMES MEIER | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

A Southwest Airlines executive has spoken out in favor of a proposed airport at El Toro, prompting the mayor of Laguna Hills to call for a boycott of the company.

In comments published in the most recent El Toro planning newsletter, Southwest executive Bob Montgomery said he is "really looking forward to the day when the airport opens at El Toro."

"El Toro is in just the right place to attract tourists and business travelers to your wonderful county," said Montgomery in the current issue of Opportunity Ahead, which is published by the county's El Toro planning office.

He is Southwest's senior director of business properties, based in Dallas.

His comments, originally delivered at an aviation task force meeting in Los Angeles, prompted Laguna Hills Mayor Cynthia Greengold to call for a boycott of Southwest. She asked that a boycott proposal be placed on a City Council agenda.

Laguna Hills Councilman L. Allan Songstad Jr. said Southwest has alienated many South County residents by supporting the new use for the El Toro Marine Corps Air Station, which will be closed by the military in July.

The Board of Supervisors is scheduled to take a final vote in December on converting the base to a commercial airport.

"I really do think it's inappropriate for Southwest to support a decision that hasn't been made," said Songstad, who also is vice chairman of a coalition of South County cities opposed to an El Toro airport.

He added that he'll choose airlines other than Southwest for his travel.

Carol Pearson, a spokeswoman for Southwest in Dallas, said the airline will work with the community on plans for El Toro and hasn't made any commitment to offer flights there. She said that Montgomery gave his own opinions, but that he said nothing contrary to the company's position.

"It's not up to Southwest what happens at El Toro," she said.

In the newsletter, Montgomery said an airport at El Toro would give Orange County residents a cheaper alternative.

"With the constraints at John Wayne Airport," less expensive rates "are just not possible right now," he said. "We know that many of our Orange County customers spend hours on the road getting to Los Angeles International and Ontario Airport to take advantage of our low fares."

Southwest serves John Wayne Airport with about a dozen flights a day, and for the past several years Southwest officials have asked for permission to add more flights. The airport has a limit on the number of daily flights through 2005.

In January, a contingent of supervisors and county employees favoring the commercial airport met in Texas with Southwest officials.

Cargo carriers such as Airborne Express, Federal Express and United Parcel Service also have asked for flights at El Toro. Supervisors recently extended leases for Federal Express and UPS at John Wayne Airport but said cargo operations for all three carriers will be switched to El Toro as soon as the county takes over the base.

Other cities have considered boycotts. Anti-airport groups called for a boycott of Newport Beach stores to protest the city's support for El Toro.

The Irvine City Council also discussed boycotting Tustin Marketplace after the Tustin City Council in February joined the Orange County Regional Airport Authority, a pro-airport group.

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