THE BELL CURVE:
Time to speak up about JWA
By Joseph N. Bell
Two weeks ago, Newport Beach Mayor Ed Selich told a Speak-Up Newport audience about the goals he sees as priorities in his new job as the city’s chief executive.
The following week, Newport Beach City Manager Homer Bludau sent a newsletter to all local citizens describing the projects that will receive the attention of city officials in the immediate months ahead.
These two events had one striking element in common.
Neither stressed the urgent need by the city and its residents to address the actions, already underway, that set the stage for expanding John Wayne Airport.
This is rather like the city officials of New Orleans debating which streets to repair while a hurricane is just offshore.
If you think this parallel is excessive, come and sit in my patio some morning and late afternoon.
Then multiply what you hear by the number of new gates and added passengers already agreed on under the current caps. Then introduce the “x” factor, the pressure that is certain to be brought to bear to trash the caps on flights and passengers that will expire in 2015.
If you’re one of the people under the JWA flight pattern who is tearing down an old home to build a new one or adding new rooms to old ones or just sitting on a patio like mine trying to talk and be heard over the roar of engines, you should be very uneasy. New and drastic threats to the magnificently evolved atmosphere in which we live are underway right now with little or no awareness among those of us who will be most affected.
For example, under the Airport Improvement Program, almost $600 million will be spent to expand John Wayne Airport. This expansion — which is euphemistically called “improvement” — will include a new multi-level terminal of 250,000 square feet, six new bridged aircraft gates and two new parking structures with some 3,500 spaces.
Design work for the new terminal and parking structures is already underway, along with preliminary construction work. Completion is estimated for 2011, four years before the current cap on JWA flights expires.
These numbers are signposts that point directly to the eventual downgrading of our neighborhoods, our Back Bay and beaches, and our quality of life. They need to be recognized and dealt with now. That can only happen with a sense of urgency that requires holding the line at JWA to dominate any set of goals for this community.
Such urgency is hard to find in Newport-Mesa these days. True, the Airport Working Group is fighting the good fight, as it has for several decades.
The members of Air Fare have planted their flag on no further concessions. The City Council calls it a priority to “minimize the adverse impacts of John Wayne Airport through the implementation of the city’s airport policy.”
But all of this has an air of business as usual, the sort of attitude that allowed the commercial airport at El Toro to slip away from us. Joint meetings are held on a quarterly basis. Meetings of corridor cities take place every other month to “explore mechanisms for formalizing the coalition.”
Consultants with “technical expertise” are sought. Partnership with Costa Mesa is exploring transportation to other airports. Business as usual.
I asked Selich why limiting airport expansion didn’t dominate the list of goals in his speech, and he said he could hardly cover it all in a 15-minute speech and so he chose to “focus on development issues” with the implied understanding from his audience that there was, indeed, an unspoken sense of urgency about JWA.
“We’ve got a cap right now,” he said. “We’ve got to build on that. It’s too early to start negotiating a new settlement.”
It isn’t too early. It may even be too late. Go take a look at the construction sites for the new and better JWA.
It’s time for the residents of this community who have their quality of life on the line to get involved. To impress on the business as usual proponents — from the county supervisors on down to local officials and including this newspaper — that the time has come to rev it up several notches. To put to use some of the muscle that comes with public outrage. And, for starters, to attend the Feb. 26 annual meeting of the Airport Working Group.
Orange County Supervisor John Moorlach will be the featured speaker at that meeting. He’ll provide plenty of ammunition for marching orders to those who attend.
His intent, as well as that of the AWG, is to put the information out straight and clear. The rest is up to us to flex the muscle. Our greatest enemy is complacency, which had a lot to do with getting us into this fix.
The people who would destroy our environment by nibbling us to death with gradually increasing caps won’t negotiate with us unless we keep their feet to the fire. So let’s do it. And for starters, don’t forget that AWG meeting from 6 to 8 p.m. Feb. 26 at the Balboa Yacht Club, 1801 Bayside Drive, Newport Beach.
JOSEPH N. BELL lives in Newport Beach. His column runs Thursdays.
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