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Orange County | DANA PARSONS

In Peacetime, Why War Over Abandoned Bases?

July 11, 2001|DANA PARSONS

Just back from vacation with this thought: Was the end of the Cold War really such a good idea? Sure, maybe for the rest of the world, but how about Orange County?

Remember what a sunny place this used to be? We were brothers and sisters in arms, fighting far-flung Communists and gosh-darned proud of our two Marine bases in El Toro and Tustin.

Then, the Cold War went and petered out and, next thing you know, we had two unneeded military bases on our hands.

We haven't had a good night's sleep since.

Instead, we've been subjected to a steady bombardment of ill will and threats over what to do with them that makes the Cold War seem like a Noel Coward play.

Brother against brother. Sister against sister. Sister against brother. Father against son. Nephew against uncle. Grand-niece against . . .

You get the idea.

It's enough to make you feel wistful about the Cuban missile crisis.

Lots of people probably confuse the two bases, but it doesn't matter anymore. You can roll them up into one big ball of confusion.

The big boy--the former El Toro Marine base--is the main event. That fight is for heavyweights and centers on whether the base should be converted to a large commercial airport or, as opponents suggest, a large civic park. You can see how those two notions are a bit at odds with each other.

We should have seen that fight coming, because people had been talking for many years about converting El Toro to a commercial airport if the Marines ever left. Apparently, they thought they could slip it past residents in the area, but it hasn't quite worked out that way.

Ever since pro-airport supporters won two ballot-box victories several years ago, the battle has been joined.

It rages on today, with no sign of abating. If you like signing petitions, the El Toro airport controversy is for you.

The competing generals contemplate nothing other than complete victory. It's easy to imagine supporters on both sides banging their shoes on the table.

Neither side trusts the other. Kennedy and Khrushchev probably had more conversations than the leaders of the respective airport sides.

Glasnost, anyone?

I'm afraid we're beyond that. More like on the brink.

Speaking of brinkmanship, that seems the key word in discussion of the other Marine base--the one in Tustin with the renowned blimp hangars.

No airport talk there. Rather, the city of Tustin wants to develop the base into a commercial and residential site. Treating it like land it had won in battle, the city was willing to parcel out some to two neighboring Santa Ana school districts for a much-needed school site. That was nice of them, considering that the site lies within Santa Ana school district boundaries.

Well, those negotiations have gone the way of Israeli-Palestinian talks. At this report, lots of name-calling, but no casualties.

Santa Ana wants more land than Tustin wants to give. Santa Ana supporters have suggested Tustin is balking solely because of the large Latino school population that would attend a new school on the site. Tustin hasn't taken kindly to that and has knuckled down for a legal fight.

Santa Ana school officials secured passage of a bill requiring Tustin to give up the original 100 acres the districts wanted. That bill awaits the governor's signature, but Tustin says it will keep fighting.

A quick tally of our scorecard, then, shows that the end of the Cold War has turned North County against South County over the proposed El Toro airport and Santa Ana against Tustin over the proposed Tustin base redevelopment.

We've made the world safe for democracy but Orange County noticeably less neighborly.

Is detente possible?

Of course. It's just that, sometimes, people prefer fighting. After all, it took the United States and Soviet Union 45 years to settle things.

So, call me a cockeyed optimist, but there's no doubt in my mind that South County-North County and Tustin-Santa Ana can settle their disputes in, oh, 20 to 30 years.


Dana Parsons' column appears Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays. Readers may reach Parsons by calling (714) 966-7821 or by writing to him at The Times' Orange County edition, 1375 Sunflower Ave., Costa Mesa, CA 92626, or by e-mail to dana.parsons

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