Voters killed El Toro airport 10 years ago today – Orange County Register

IRVINE – What is becoming a large regional park, neighborhoods, businesses and offices at the old El Toro Marine base was once on track to become a large international airport.

But 10 years ago today, on March 5, 2002, the passage of Measure W in effect killed the airport.

Now, more than 10,000 homes and a 1,347-acre park are planned for the former 4,682-acre El Toro Marine Corps Air Station. See historical photos of El Toro.

The vote was the climax of a divisive and intense decade-long political and legal battle about the future of the military base.

The fight, in essence, pitted a pro-airport coalition of county government, north county residents and the city of Newport Beach against south county residents who passionately opposed the airport with a grass-roots campaign, their supportive city governments and Irvine politician Larry Agran.

Pro-airport arguments included that it would provide and promote jobs and long-term economic strength for the county in an increasingly global marketplace. Anti-airport arguments included that it would cause too much noise and air pollution, and that there would not be enough travel demand to sustain it.


Despite two previous votes in favor of the airport and plenty of momentum on their side, proponents of the project began to lose public support in the late 1990s.

“It was just wrong of them to try to push a huge international airport into the heart of a residential county with a divided 3-2 county supervisor vote,” said Leonard Kranser, one of the anti-airport citizen activists involved in the struggle. The former business owner had just retired to Dana Point when he heard about the airport plans. “With air travel volume as low as it is now, the airport would have been a financial disaster for the county,” he said.

According to Kranser, the tide turned in March of 2000, when voters approved Measure F. That initiative, placed on the ballot by volunteers who gathered 192,000 signatures, created a rule requiring approval from two-thirds of voters before constructing or expanding a commercial airport, toxic waste dump or large prison within a half-mile of any homes. The initiative passed with a whopping 67 percent to 33 percent margin.

A judge later invalidated Measure F, saying it unconstitutionally interfered with the Board of Supervisors’ authority. But it sapped energy from the pro-airport movement, Kranser said.


The same people who pushed Measure F pushed Measure W, and they sued to stop the county from spending any public funds on campaigning against the initiative.

Voters approved Measure W – the Orange County Central Park and Nature Preserve Initiative – by a significant 58 percent majority. It changed the zoning of the area from allowing an airport to less intensive uses. After the Navy auctioned off 3,718 acres to developer Lennar Corp. for $650 million, the city of Irvine annexed the area, driving the final nail into the airport’s coffin.

Airport proponents said they respect the will of the voters but still believe in the justice of their cause.

“The south county folks were better organized,” said Tom Naughton, a retired engineer and former president of the Airport Working Group. “I understand why they were against it. They would have been more personally affected by the airport than folks in north county. But they were only looking at the next 10 to 20 years. If you look at the next 40 to 50 years, an airport would have been a better use of the land for the people of Orange County.”

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