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Press Release · September 14, 2001

Orange County Residents Not Swayed By “El Toro Lite”

Big or Small, Airport Proposal Still Opposed by Majority of Residents; Broad Support for Limiting El Toro Use to Non-Aviation Purposes

SAN FRANCISCO, California, September 14, 2001 — Orange County residents remain opposed to transforming the El Toro Marine Corps Air Station into an international airport, even if annual passenger limits are reduced, according to a new survey released today by the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) and UC Irvine.  As the Board of Supervisors readies itself for a vote on the new airport proposal, residents continue to express disappointment in county government’s handling of the issue and again appear ready to take matters into their own hands through the initiative process.                   

The large-scale public opinion survey of the county found that residents feel the same now as they did a year ago about building an international airport at El Toro:  Fifty-two percent oppose the proposal and 38 percent support it.  Residents of the North County are equally divided on the issue (44% to 44%), but South County residents overwhelmingly oppose the airport plan (76% to 19%). 

Despite recent efforts to increase public support for the airport by developing a scaled-down plan, a similar number of residents also oppose the proposal to reduce the number of annual passengers at the airport from 28 million to 18 million.  Fifty-four percent oppose the smaller airport plan, while 36 percent support it.  Both North County residents (46% to 42%) and South County residents (76% to 19%) oppose this proposal.

“Clearly, the county’s efforts to reach a compromise proposal are not supported by residents,” said PPIC Statewide Survey Director Mark Baldassare.  “The airport plan has been a tough sell for local leaders from the start, but with this latest effort to find a middle ground, they have actually lost support from North County residents.”  The survey reveals residents’ lingering unhappiness with county government’s handling of the El Toro conversion issue:  Similar to last year, half disapprove (49%), while only 25 percent approve.

On a related note, residents again appear ready to defy the will of the county by expressing strong support for an initiative that would allow only non-aviation uses, including a large park, for the El Toro Marine Air Base.  Sixty-two percent of residents say they would vote yes and 31 percent would vote no.  Supporters greatly outnumber opponents in both the North County (57% to 36%) and the South County (79% to 17%).  Among voters, 61 percent would vote yes on the initiative and 34 percent would vote no if the election were held today.

The Special Survey of Orange County — a collaborative effort of PPIC and the School of Social Ecology at UC Irvine — is a special edition of the PPIC Statewide Survey.  Findings of the current survey are based on a telephone survey of 2,004 adult Orange County residents, interviewed from August 20 to August 31, 2001.  Interviews were conducted in English or Spanish.  The sampling error for the total sample is +/- 2%.  Dr. Mark Baldassare is a senior fellow and program director at PPIC.  He is founder and director of the PPIC Statewide Survey, which he has conducted since 1998.  From 1982 to 2000, Baldassare directed the Orange County Annual Survey for UC Irvine.  PPIC is a private, nonprofit organization dedicated to objective, nonpartisan research on economic, social, and political issues that affect the lives of Californians.