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Lift Caps on John Wayne Growth, Say El Toro Foes

Brochure sent to 400,000 homes assails county's plan to maintain the current capacity. Newport official criticizes expansion idea.

April 10, 2001|JEAN O. PASCO | TIMES STAFF WRITER

An expanded John Wayne Airport could handle Orange County's future airport needs, rendering a new airfield at El Toro unnecessary, South County cities suggest in a new mailer.

The brochure, mailed to 400,000 Orange County households, takes aim at hard-won growth caps at John Wayne Airport that expire in 2005. The caps should be lifted, the mailer says, to allow the airport to jump from a maximum of 8.4 million passengers a year to 14 million passengers.

The mailer is a frontal assault on Newport Beach and county officials, who want the current limits on passengers and flights at John Wayne to remain after 2005. The 20-year limits were imposed in a 1985 agreement that also called for county officials to develop a second airport.

John Wayne Airport is "crowd-free, close to home, close to perfect," touts the brochure, sent by the El Toro Reuse Planning Authority, which opposes construction of an airport at the closed Marine base.

"It lays out our position that John Wayne can handle Orange County's share of regional demand just fine," planning authority spokeswoman Meg Waters said.

The South County cities took aim at John Wayne after voting last month to rescind a resolution that favored keeping the airport's growth limits in place. The earlier statement said residents around John Wayne shouldn't be subjected to increased noise, traffic and pollution.

Now, the planning authority insists that expanding the number of passengers within the 500-acre airport is all the county needs to do. John Wayne handles about 130 departures a day, but about a third of those seats are empty because of the strict passenger limits.

Another factor is cost, the mailer says: Accommodating more passengers at John Wayne would cost about $350 million, while the county estimates that the new airport at El Toro would cost about $2.6 billion.

Squeezing another 6 million passengers into John Wayne would be devastating, Newport Beach City Manager Homer Bludau said Monday. It would require tripling the size of the terminal, doubling the number of airline gates and extending the commercial runway 1,100 feet toward the San Diego Freeway, meaning planes would fly lower north of the airport as they prepare to land.

"John Wayne wouldn't look like or sound like it [does] today," Bludau said. "They want to do this on a 500-acre site when they have 4,700 acres at El Toro and a huge no-home zone surrounding that."

Exactly how many Orange County residents will need to be accommodated at airports in the future is the focus of debate. A Los Angeles International Airport analysis released last year estimated 12 million airport travelers within Orange County by 2015.

A separate county survey of John Wayne completed in 1999 showed that about half of travelers using the airport were from Orange County, while visitors and tourists accounted for the rest.

The Southern California Assn. of Governments estimates that about 158 million passengers will be using Southern California airports each year by 2025. The airport demand for Orange County, including residents and visitors, will be about 30 million, according to SCAG estimates.

The planning authority mailer hit households this week after the Newport Beach City Council pumped up its pro-El Toro spending. The council approved nearly $4 million for public relations and lobbying on behalf of the proposed airport. The vote followed a similar move by county officials to spend $5 million on a countywide campaign pushing an El Toro facility.

The sparring also comes as pressure has grown regionally for Orange County to convert much of the 4,700-acre Marine base for an airport that would blunt the need to expand LAX. The LAX expansion project has drawn fire from all the candidates in today's race for mayor of Los Angeles.

South County's mailer means the battle lines have narrowed between building El Toro or expanding John Wayne, said Dave Ellis, a consultant with the Airport Working Group, which pushed in 1985 for the county to find another airport.

"This should be a wake-up call to anyone who lives between the Balboa Peninsula and Anaheim Hills," he said.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

What Is; What Could Be

South County cities want John Wayne Airport to handle the county's growth in airline passengers by doubling its current passenger load to 14 million people a year after 2005. County officials have studied the impact of more passengers through the 500-acre airport as part of an analysis for building a new airport at the closed El Toro Marine base.

*--*

CURRENT EXPANDED Passengers 8.4 million (max.) 14 million Airline gates 14 29 Terminal size 337,900 sq. ft. 1.14 million sq. ft. Commercial runway 5,700 feet 6,800 feet Daily departures 130 264 Daily car trips 47,000 84,000 Parking spaces 6,183 13,820

*--*

Source: County of Orange

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