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John Wayne Limits Left Up in the Air

Surprising board reluctance to extend airport noise restrictions after 2005 renews suspicions in Newport Beach of expansion if El Toro plan dies.


In a surprise move, Orange County supervisors balked Tuesday at a request to extend noise restrictions at John Wayne Airport beyond 2005, when a federal court agreement limiting its size expires.

Newport Beach officials said they were stunned by the board's decision, even though supervisors agreed to revisit the issue Dec. 5.

The vote is largely symbolic--supervisors have no authority to extend the agreement without federal approval--but critical nonetheless. If South County wins its hard-fought battle to block an airport at El Toro, it raises the likelihood that John Wayne Airport will be expanded unless restrictions remain in place.

"[John Wayne Airport] as it is, is working for us," Newport Beach Mayor John Noyes said after the meeting. "Let's keep what's good."

At one point, Supervisor Todd Spitzer, who opposes an El Toro airport, asked Noyes if the two sides couldn't reach a compromise on the federal agreement governing John Wayne restrictions.

If the county supported continued John Wayne restrictions, Spitzer asked, would Newport Beach support dropping language that advocates a second Orange County airport?

"The short answer is 'no,' " Noyes responded.

Board Chairman Chuck Smith suggested that county officials seek similar protections for John Wayne and expand them to include operations at the proposed El Toro airport, but that also failed to get the support of colleagues.

The proposal was introduced by Supervisor Tom Wilson on behalf of Newport Beach.

Supervisors Jim Silva and Cynthia P. Coad also opposed Wilson's plan Tuesday, saying they needed more time to consider the implications of the lengthy proposal, delivered to supervisors late Friday.

Among the recommendations, for example, was an environmental impact report on extending the John Wayne restrictions. But some observers said an environmental review would be needed only if the county was planning to allow more passengers to use the airport--a position opposed by Newport Beach.

Only Wilson and Smith voiced support for the proposal, but they succeeded in urging the board to reconsider the measure Dec. 5.

The indecision caught Newport Beach officials off guard in part because the city has long enjoyed the board's support regarding John Wayne restrictions. This has angered South County residents, who believe the push to build a second Orange County airport at the retired El Toro Marine base is a way to appease the wealthy coastal community.

After the meeting, Noyes conceded that the delay fuels fears about a John Wayne expansion. He said Newport Beach remains determined to fight for continued restrictions at John Wayne and the proposed El Toro airport.

Indecision Catches Newport Off Guard

Newport officials want limits at John Wayne to be considered separately from El Toro, but Smith said that is impossible, given that the fate of John Wayne is intertwined with that of El Toro.

Before the meeting, suspicions abounded as to what the supervisors' support for continued restrictions--or lack of it--would mean to communities waging airport-related battles.

Some said that continued restrictions at John Wayne, assuring it wouldn't expand, would dampen Newport Beach's ardent support for a new airport at El Toro.

Others believed that opposing John Wayne restrictions could signal a desire for John Wayne to remain the county's sole airport.

After all, airport restrictions are nothing new at John Wayne: A night-time flight curfew has been in place since the late 1960s and additional limits on noise and passengers contained in the court agreement were approved in 1985.

The noise limit and night-time curfew at John Wayne were approved before a pivotal 1990 change in federal law that bars such measures, city officials said, and county and city attorneys are confident they can remain.

But passage of the Airport Noise and Capacity Act in 1990 made it functionally impossible for local governments to impose new limits at airports, casting doubt on the county's ability to obtain similar protections for El Toro.

In another airport matter Tuesday, supervisors approved a conceptual one-year plan for valet parking to begin next year at John Wayne Airport.

The plan calls for passengers to hand over their cars in front of the terminal. The cars will be parked in a special outdoor lot near the airport. When passengers return, they will board a shuttle bus, which will take them to their cars.

The cost of the service won't be known until after companies are asked to submit proposals in January. Spitzer questioned airport director Alan Murphy about demand for the service and whether passengers will want to pay premium valet prices for leaving their vehicles in an uncovered lot.

Murphy said similar valet systems operate at 12 other airports around the country, with half using uncovered lots. If the service isn't successful, supervisors can end it after a year.

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