"I don't think the county--and I hope that changes--has the ability to properly articulate the case and the need for an airport and to position it properly with the public," he said. "We've got to have our elected officials have the courage to do the right thing and get on with it."
Part of the county's quandary, Smith said, is that it has been required by state and federal environmental laws to study the maximum impacts of a new airport at El Toro and whether they could be mitigated. The county's first pass at an El Toro airport suggested the maximum capacity would be 38 million passengers a year, so that's what was studied, he said.
Since then, the airport has been reduced in size once--in December 1996--and probably will be again, he said.
Moreover, in March, the Southern California Assn. of Governments, which oversees regional transportation issues, will release new airport demand figures for Southern California over the next 20 years, numbers that should be analyzed before a final size of the airport is determined, Smith said.
"We'll construct an airport to meet the demand," he said. "Certainly, it'll be more palatable if it's downsized, and it will be downsized. But we don't have enough data to make that decision yet."