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Orange County

Lawsuit Targets El Toro

Land use: Anti-airport cities say the county's environmental review did not study the impact of flights over western Irvine. But O.C. officials stand by the plan.


Orange County's environmental review of plans for an El Toro airport violates state law because it fails to analyze the impact of flights over western Irvine, according to a lawsuit filed Tuesday by anti-airport cities.

The coalition's petition for a writ of mandate asks the Orange County Superior Court to invalidate the Board of Supervisors' Oct. 23 approval of an airport at the closed Marine base. The environmental review analyzed plans for a facility that would serve 28.8 million passengers a year; supervisors voted 3 to 2 to proceed with an airport serving 18.8 million passengers a year.

"The county has made a mockery of the environmental review process," coalition spokesman L. Allan Songstad Jr., a Laguna Hills councilman, said in a prepared statement announcing the suit. "The supervisors decided to pick and choose what information to share with the public. They systematically ignored any data that cast a negative light on the airport plan. The result is an [environmental impact report] that defies common sense."

County officials stood behind the review Tuesday, which they called the most comprehensive analysis of a county project in years. Airport planning has been backed by three of the five county supervisors--board Chairwoman Cynthia P. Coad and supervisors Jim Silva and Chuck Smith.

"This is the result of a seven-year work effort by the country's leading experts," said Gary Simon, executive director of El Toro's planning agency. "We answered more than 8,000 comments and held numerous community open houses. There was a very significant amount of public participation."

Richard Jacobs, the attorney representing the anti-airport coalition, said the county failed to fully study the airport's impact on the environment or to properly consider other airport options, as required by state law.

Specifically, the county didn't study the possibility of westerly takeoffs over Irvine, something county officials have pledged to forbid. But a report last month by the Federal Aviation Administration concluded that western takeoffs would be the preferred route during certain weather conditions.

The FAA report said the county intends to bar operations over western Irvine, but it said pilots have discretion to use whichever runway they believe is safest. The nation's two airline pilots unions and air-traffic controllers have criticized the county's runway plan as unsafe and unworkable.

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