JANUARY 15, 1998
ORANGE COUNTY, CALIFORNIA
The Irvine Citizen (Community; p. 2) interviewed Courtney Wiercioch, Orange County, California's program manager for the El Toro Airport Master Development Program. The Citizen talked with Wiercioch concerning San Diego Superior Court Judge Judith McConnell's ruling last week that major revisions must be made to the county's environmental analysis of El Toro airport noise, traffic and passenger demand. The article reports that the ruling requires the county to make additional comparisons based on existing or known conditions, such as road improvements now funded or in place. Wiercioch said that the ruling is not viewed as a major setback and will not stop base-reuse planning.
Wiercioch said, according to the article, that the Board of Supervisors has already decided that it will appeal parts of the ruling where the judge found against the county. It is their belief that the ruling doesn't reflect the facts of the case.
In terms of setbacks, Wiercioch said in the Irvine Citizen interview that the county will now have to give time, attention and resources to the prior document that they would have liked to spend on the future document.
In the interview, Wiercioch was asked how much the court-ordered revisions to the EIR would cost Orange county. She responded that they "don't know. And at this point we don't know if we're going to appeal on all of the issues or some of the issues and which ones we want to correct. So we still have some decisions to make about that. We're not back to square one because we have a full year of planning under our belt and the judge said that we can continue in the planning process. The Marines are leaving in 1999. And for the community to make the most of that base, we need to get our planning done."
In terms of upsides to the ruling, the Irvine Citizen reported that Wiercioch said that she thinks the ruling was very positive for the county. The environmental impact report was a huge document -- the most expensive EIR the county has done. The ruling upheld the overwhelming majority of the document which is positive for the county. About 17 specific issues were raised by the petitioner. The judge upheld nine of these which allows the county to move forward with the planning process. In the article, the Irvine Citizen asked Courtney Wiercoch, "How do you think the county will benefit from bringing in an inter-national Airport?"
Wiercioch responded that, "There are a couple of things to keep in mind. The Board of Supervisors has determined that they believe a commercial aviation use is an appropriate use for a portion of the base. The board has not decided what that airport would look like or how large it would be or what kind of service it would provide or what kind of facilities would be provided there. An international airport is one of the components they will consider, but that decision has not been made."
She also said in the article that the lack of international service is a hindrance to the local economy. The provision of international service for both passenger and cargo would be a benefit to the tourism in the city, to trade to the whole technology import-export business. Wiercioch said that right now they are exporting all of these benefits to other communities - largely to L.A.X.
The Irvine Citizen also asked Wiercioch what she thought about the concerns that have been expressed by residents in the seven cities opposing the airport. And whether she thought that their concerns about the noise, traffic and the possible lowering of property values were legitimate.
The article reported that Wiercioch said, "I think it's always legitimate for people to take an interest in and ask questions about the community in which they live. I ask the same kind of questions about projects in my neighborhood."
Wiercoch also said, "Whether or not those concerns will be born out by the project is exactly why we're doing the analysis. We want to be able to answer those questions for people who say: "What will the noise environment be in my home, my child's school and what will the traffic be like on the freeway?"
The article reported that Wiercioch stated that the county's job from a staff prospective is to answer these types of questions. The county's job is to provide the information and let the board and the community decide.
The article reported that Wiercioch stated that there's information that's been issued that property values actually increase in the vicinity of an airport because it's a more dynamic community, it's economically stronger and there's greater job creation. It depends on your proximity to the airport.
In the article she said that sometimes a property value deduction is a function of how close you are to the airport. Because there is 18,000 acres of protected area already around the base. There are no homes as close to El Toro as you would find at John Wayne Airport.
According to the article, Wiercioch said that with El Toro you're not just planning the airport, you're planning all the land around it. So through zoning and planning you can ensure that the land uses around the airport won't be the kinds of things that the community doesn't want.
In the article, the Irvine Citizen asked, "The county has received a lot of criticism for its planning process. Some have suggested that the county is trying to bulldoze the airport through despite resident concerns. Do you think the criticism is justified and is the county doing anything to change the process to include more outside input?" In the article, Wiercioch responded, "I think the planning process has been fairly long, slow and methodical. The county has taken tremendous pains to make sure the community is involved. Orange County has been dealing with the base since 1993. It's 1998 right now. We're still planning. That doesn't sound like any decisions are being ramrodded. We won't come to the board with the next planning document until 1999."
In the article, Wiercioch ended by saying that the county's Website should be up and running January 12th. Included will be meeting agendas, flight maps, noise contour maps, newsletters, the actual resolution the board adopted and more.