Campus: CSU Fullerton -- November 20, 2001

County Residents Continue to Oppose El Toro Airport

Continuing, and somewhat strengthening, opposition to a proposed international airport at the closed Marine Corps base at El Toro is a key finding from the latest survey of Orange County residents undertaken by Cal State Fullerton's Center for Public Policy and the Orange County Business Council.

The latest quarterly survey was undertaken after the Orange County Board of Supervisors acted in mid-October to certify the environmental report for its airport plan, thus moving the county forward on a track to building an international airport. Dates for interviews were October 24 through November 11, 2001.

About six out of ten residents contacted said that they either "strongly oppose" (44.1%) or "somewhat oppose" (16.0%) building an international airport at El Toro.

Orange County residents reached in the November survey were asked:
At the present time, do you support or oppose building an international airport at the El Toro Marine Corps Air Station? Would you say that you… Strongly support building the airport, Somewhat support, Somewhat oppose, or Strongly oppose building an international airport at the El Toro Marine Corps Air Station?

This same wording has been used in previous CSUF-OCBC surveys. Results over time are shown in Table One.


Table One
Level of Support for Proposed El Toro Airport
Strongly Support
Support
Oppose
Strongly Oppose
Latest: November 2001
21.8%
18.1%
16.0%
44.1%
June 2001
28.9%
17.9%
15.4%
37.8%
March 2001
20.8%
19.6%
13.3%
46.3%
November 2000
19.0%
17.5%
15.7%
47.8%
July 2000
22.1%
19.2%
11.7%
47.0%
February 2000
23.8%
20.5%
13.0%
42.7%
November 1999
23.9%
22.9%
12.5%
40.7%

All numbers from Center for Public Policy / OCBC Surveys.

Changes of the magnitude indicated between June and November fall within conventional levels of statistical significance. In other words, there is a 95% or better chance that the shift toward more opposition to the airport is "real," and not a random artifact of sampling error.

In a separate effort to assess movement in opinion, the CSUF-OCBC survey for the first time included a question asking the respondents specifically whether they had changed their opinions about the airport proposal. We asked this question: Thinking back, would you say that your views on building an airport at El Toro have changed in the last six months, or would you say that your views have remained the same?

As Table Two sets out, only one out of eleven respondents reported having changed his or her mind about the proposed international airport.


Table Two
Patterns of Opinion Stability / Change With Respect to the Proposed International Airport at El Toro
In the Past Six Months:
Views Have Changed
8.9%
Views Have Remained the Same
91.1%

"A pattern of substantial opinion stability is to be expected," commented Dr. Phillip Gianos, CSUF Professor of Political Science. "This issue has dominated Orange County politics for a number of years now, and in fact we should expect relatively little change among most citizens, whose minds are made up."

We went on to ask those who reported having changed their opinions as to the direction of their change - whether for or against the proposed airport. This follow-up question was worded in this way: Would you say that your views have changed from supporting an airport to opposing one, or from opposing an airport to supporting one?

Among the persons who reported having changed their opinions, 27 said that they had moved from support to opposition to the airport; and 11 said they had changed from opposing the airport to support. On numbers these small, we are not able statistically to infer patterns in the full population.

The survey has no direct, internal set of questions with which to probe the reasons for the shift away from airport support and toward opposition.

"We may note the obvious, however, and observe that these numbers were obtained after the September 11 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, and the subsequent impacts on air travel in the U.S.," commented Keith Boyum, Center for Public Policy Director and CSUF Political Science Professor. "It would seem easy for ordinary citizens to conclude that the Fall 2001 reduction in demand for air travel mitigates against a proposed airport - even if the airport planners have a twenty-year horizon in mind," he said.

Boyum continued: "Frankly, the enormous impact of the September 11 attacks seems more likely to affect the opinions of ordinary citizens than other Fall 2001 events that drew sharp focus from highly attentive groups. These other events would include the October 9 release of the Federal Aviation Administration report on safety of the plans for air traffic, the highly public apparent changes of heart by Supervisor Silva, and the movement of some Orange County elected officials to the 'oppose' camp, such as State Senator Richard Ackerman. Opinion leaders pay keen attention to these things, but ordinary citizens do not."

County Residents Favor Proposal for a Large Urban Park

As is widely understood in current Orange County politics, the principal alternative to building an international airport at El Toro appears to be a proposal that a large urban park be built on the site. The question of whether an initiative that would substitute such a park for an airport will reach the ballot in March 2002 was under judicial review at the time of this survey.

To probe support for this park proposal, we used language identical to that used in previous surveys, facilitating accurate comparisons. Our first question sought to assess familiarity with the park proposal, as follows: Have you read or heard anything about a proposal to develop a large urban park on the site of the former Marine Corps Air Station at El Toro?

Results are shown in Table Three, where a comparison is made to our June survey results. It will be noted that about eight out of ten residents have read or heard something about the "Great Park" proposal, a number that has not changed since June, 2001.

Table Three
Familiarity With "Large Urbank Park" Proposal
Yes, have read or heard
something
No, have not read or
heard anything
Latest Survey: November, 2001:
79%
21%
June, 2001 Survey:
78%
22%

All numbers from Center for Public Policy / OCBC Surveys.

Regardless of whether the respondent had read or heard anything about the park, we went on to ask their opinions about it, using this question (which again, was identical with the question used in June): As you may know, Orange County will probably vote next March on a proposal to build a large urban park on the site of the former Marine Corps Air Station at El Toro, instead of an international airport. If the election were held today, how likely is it that you would vote in favor of such a park?

In Table Four we show that Orange County residents respond to our question that they would vote in favor of a park, if the election were held "today."

As will be seen, basic support for a large urban park appears to have increased slightly, from about 62 / 38 in favor in June, to about 66 / 34 in favor in November. It should be noted, however, that there is more than a 5% chance that this difference is due to chance or random variation. In other words, this finding does not reach conventional levels of statistical significance.


Table Four
Likelihood of Voting in Favor of
A Proposed Large Urban Park at El Toro
Very Likely
Somewhat Likely
Somewhat Unlikely
Very Unlikely
Latest: November 2001
46.6%
19.8%
10.0%
23.6%
June 2001
41.9%
20.5%
10.2%
27.4%

All numbers from Center for Public Policy / OCBC Surveys.

As we did on the topic of the proposed airport, we asked residents about their own changes of view with respect to the park proposal. We asked: Thinking back, would you say that your views on a large urban park at El Toro have changed in the last couple of months, or would you say they have remained the same? and, for those who indicated a change: Would you say that your views have changed from supporting a large urban park to opposing one, or from opposing a large urban park to supporting one?

We see first, in Table Five, that opinions concerning the proposed park show a substantial stability, very much like opinions concerning the proposed airport.

"A naïve observer would find this puzzling," commented Professor Phillip Gianos. "However, if we view the opinions about the proposed park as arising substantially out of the pre-existing opinions about the proposed airport, then the stability that we find is understandable. In effect, our numbers can be interpreted as validating the common understanding in the County, that support for the proposed park is the vehicle for opposing the proposed airport," said Gianos.


Table Five
Patterns of Opinion Stability / Change
Regarding the Proposed Large Urban Park ("Great Park")
In the Past Six Months:    
  Views Have Changed 10.5%
  Views Have Remained the Same 89.5%

Given the small number of persons who changed their opinions, our data on the direction of change for those respondents who indicated changing their opinions about the park do not permit valid inference to the population. Some 19 persons reported having changed from support for the park to opposition; and 26 persons reported having changed from opposition to the park to support.

In further pursuit of the issue of the proposed park, we asked respondents for their likely decision on the proposed park in two different financial support scenarios. We introduced the topic with this transition in our interviews.

Some say the proposed urban park could be funded by a combination of leases, user fees, grants, private development of public-use facilities, and state and federal bonds. But others disagree and say such a park would still require local taxes to pay for it.

We then posed a first question to respondents: How likely is it that you would vote in favor a park if local taxes were necessary to pay for it?

Respondents narrowly broke against the park in this scenario, with just under 48% registering reporting some likelihood ("very" or "somewhat" likely) of a positive vote. Results are shown in Table Six.


Table Six
Likelihood of Voting in Favor of
A Proposed Large Urban Park at El Toro
If Local Taxes Were Necessary to Pay for It
Very Likely
Somewhat Likely
Somewhat Unlikely
Very Unlikely
November 2001
24.3%
23.3%
16.3%
36.1%
June 2001

(question was not asked)


However, proponents of the park idea argue that a mix of funds could be used to support the park development and operation. Attempting to mirror that argument, we posed this question to respondents: How likely is it that you would vote in favor of such a park if it were funded by a combination of sources such as leases, user fees and bonds?

Clearly, residents of Orange County were more likely to support a park under this scenario. Table Seven shows that nearly seven out of ten of our respondents moved to a position of supporting the park, given this financing hypothetical.


Table Seven
Likelihood of Voting in Favor of A Proposed Large Urban Park at El Toro
If a Combination of Sources Were Used to Pay for It,
Such as Leases, User Fees, and Bonds
Very Likely Somewhat Likely Somewhat Unlikely Very Unlikely
November 2001 40.3% 29.4% 9.5% 20.8%
June 2001

(question was not asked)


Professor Gianos commented: "The source of the funds is a real key. If one invokes taxes only, support changes to opposition, with 48% in support to 52% in opposition. Yet if the revenue base is hypothetically broadened, things switch strongly back to support, roughly 70 to 30. So the new taxes argument against the park looks like a politically strong tactic on the part of pro-airport (anti-park) groups. However, the counter-argument, which we might dub multiple funding sources / no new taxes / it'll pay for itself, seems to be an effective response - at least so far."

Professor Boyum commented: "This is hardly unknown to the contestants in Orange County's great 'airport versus park' debate. The anti-park (pro-airport) ads running on County cable television are trying hard to persuade people that local taxes will be required for the park. Meanwhile, mailers and other media from the pro-park (anti-airport) groups make the opposite claim.

"However," Boyum continued, "it seems likely that at least some county residents could reach the judgment that a vote in favor of the proposed park would satisfy their (presumed) wish to de-rail the airport proposal - while not precluding another vote or other political activity that would also prevent a local tax hike for support for a park. In other words, Orange County residents could express an anti-airport view by voting for a park, even while intending to oppose local taxes that would support a park."

The Effect of Region: North versus South Orange County

Previous Cal State Fullerton - OCBC surveys have found more opposition, and more intense opposition, to the proposed airport at El Toro from residents in southern Orange County than from northern County residents.

Data from the latest November 2001 survey demonstrate the same patterns. Table Eight sets out relevant data from this latest survey, together with comparison numbers from June 2001.


Table Eight
Level of Support for Proposed El Toro Airport, by Region
Strongly Support
So. County
or Support
No. County
Strongly Oppose
So. County
or Strongly Oppose
No. County
November 2001
22.6%
47.7%
77.3%
52.2%
June 2001
21.1%
52.9%
78.8%
47.1%
March 2001
20.4%
49.5%
79.6%
50.6%
November 2000
23.1%
50.1%
77.0%
49.9%

All numbers from Center for Public Policy / OCBC Surveys.

"One can identify some movement in these numbers among North Orange County residents," commented Professor Boyum. "The numbers suggest some fall-off in support for the proposed airport among North County residents, and an increase in opposition.

"However, when all is said and done, similarities overwhelm differences in these numbers.

"A fifth or so - less than a fourth - of southern Orange County residents have consistently favored the airport, while a strong three-quarters have opposed it. At the same time, right around half of the north County residents have indicated some level of support for an international airport at El Toro on repeated surveys, while the other half have indicated some level of opposition to the proposal," Boyum said.

Meanwhile, support for a proposed large urban park on the El Toro site similarly varied by region of the county. Our question, the same one asked in our June 2001 survey, was: As you may know, Orange County will probably vote next March on a proposal to build a large urban park on the site of the former Marine Corps Air Station at El Toro, instead of an international airport. If the election were held today, how likely is it that you would vote in favor of such a park?

Table Nine provides the key North / South breakdowns. As will be seen, in statistical terms there has been no significant change between June and November.

  • More than eight out of ten residents of South Orange County favored the park proposal in June, and the same approximate proportion favored the proposal in November.

  • Nearly six out of ten residents of North Orange County favored the park proposal in June, and the same approximate proportion favored the proposal in November.

Table Nine
Likelihood of Voting in Favor of a Large Urban Park at El Toro, by Region
 
Very or Somewhat Likely
Very or Somewhat Unlikely
So. County
No. County
So. County
No. County
November 2001
81.4%
59.4%
18.5%
40.6%
June 2001
84.2%
57.5%
15.7%
42.5%

All numbers from Center for Public Policy / OCBC Surveys.

Table Four (above) provided the breakdown for Orange County as a whole. Because the two regions are not equal in population - North Orange County includes many more people - the overall numbers for the County as a whole are not simply an average of the North and South County portions.

Commented Professor Boyum: "Taking Tables Four, Five, and Nine together, there is much more similarity in these numbers than there is difference. The real story for the park proposal is no change."

Our analysis may continue with a table which matches opinions about the planned airport versus the proposed large urban park. If the "political logic" of Orange County is either / or, airport / park, we should expect substantial consistency in opinions. We should, in other words, expect that people against the airport would be in favor of the park, and vice versa.

Table Ten sets out the results.


Table Ten
Likelihood of Voting for a "Great Park" Proposal, by Support For / Opposition To A Proposed El Toro Airport
 
Build International Airport at El Toro?
How Likely to Vote in
Favor of a "Great Park?"
Support
Oppose
Very Likely
16.6%
69.8%
Somewhat Likely
18.3%
16.0%
Somewhat Unlikely
15.4%
5.8%
Very Unlikely
49.7%
8.3%
 
_____________
_____________
 
100.0%
100.0%

Most Orange County residents are politically consistent in their attitudes: those who are in favor of an international airport at El Toro are opposed to building a large urban park on the site; and those who are opposed to such an airport are in favor of building a large urban park at El Toro. Indeed, viewed this way, eight or nine out of ten airport opponents (69.8% + 16.0% = 85.8%) are "politically consistent," and about two-thirds of airport supporters are similarly consistent (49.7% +15.4% = 65.1%).

Yet the differences are worthy of comment. "These numbers tell us that airport opponents have done well in aligning their preferences with their anticipated votes on the park proposal. However, airport supporters have aligned their preferences less well," noted Professor Gianos.

Gianos continued: "Airport opponents, many of whom live near El Toro, may be more intense in their opinions than airport supporters. If so, these numbers make sense. Airport opponents would be more likely than airport supporters to understand the political logic of the choice between airport and park."

"Despite the expenditures of millions of taxpayer dollars on both sides of the airport / no airport, and park / no park argument, there is next to nothing to show for it," said Dr. Alan Saltzstein, Professor of Political Science, and Chair of the CSUF Division of Political Science & Criminal Justice.

"Reasonable people could ask - with urgency - that elected officials on both sides of the debate stop spending on these so-called informational campaigns," said Saltzstein.

Commenting for the Orange County Business Council, Executive Vice President Julie Puentes said: "There is no question that there is a consistent resistance toward the airport proposal. But the alternative will be more costly to the taxpayers. And it would cause the region to forfeit an opportunity for economic prosperity that can never be regained. We're seeing the adverse impacts of diminished demand now upon the Orange County economy; are we prepared to forfeit forever the economic benefits of meeting a demand that will return over time? In the interests of our long-term economic future, we need to be smart over time, understanding the significance of the short-term decisions before us."

The Orange County Business Council has a formal position in favor of the plan to build an international airport at El Toro. Neither Cal State Fullerton nor the CSUF Center for Public Policy takes any position on the airport plan or the "Great Park" proposal.

County Residents Unaware of Charter Proposals for OC

Leadership circles in Orange County have begun to discuss whether the county should move from its current "general law" status under the state constitution, to a "charter" form of government. Among the issues underlying the conversation is the observation that this is the largest California county still to be in "general law" status. Another is that with a charter some governmental controls would pass from Sacramento to Santa Ana.

We did not expect to find widespread awareness of the topic among ordinary residents of the county. Still, in anticipation of an issue that may come to fruition in months ahead, we sought a baseline for county opinion on the topic.

We first asked whether our respondents this question: Have you happened to read or hear anything about a proposal to develop a "charter" form of government for Orange County? Results are shown in Table Eleven.


Table Eleven
Familiarity With Charter Form of Government Proposal
 
Yes, have read or heard
something
No, have not read or
heard anything
November, 2001:
48.8%
95.2%

Our interviews proceeded with this question: Recently, some Orange County leaders have discussed whether to move the County to a "Charter" form of government. The Charter would be somewhat like a constitution for the county, and would eliminate a great deal of oversight by the legislature in Sacramento. If an election were held today, would you vote yes or no on such a proposal for a charter for Orange County?

Some 210 interviewees in our sample of 544 (38.6%) said that they did not know how they would vote - understandably, since almost nobody has heard of the idea. Excluding them from the analysis, Orange County residents split nearly evenly on whether they would vote for a charter: 47.4% said yes, they would; and 52.6% said no, they would vote against.

We went on with a question designed specifically to tap one of the more tangible and easily understood arguments advanced by charter proponents, as follows: One of the key ideas for a charter for Orange County would be that County residents would vote in replacements for County Supervisors who resigned in the middle of their terms, instead of having the governor appoint someone to fill out the rest of a Supervisor's term. Would you be strongly in favor, somewhat in favor, somewhat opposed, or strongly opposed to voting in replacements for County Supervisors who resigned?

Our survey respondents reacted to that question as shown in Table Twelve. Some 57 respondents who said they didn't know are excluded from this analysis.


Table Twelve
Level of Support for Proposed Voting in Replacements for County Supervisors who Resign
Strongly Favor
Somewhat Favor
Somewhat Oppose
Strongly Oppose
47.4%
35.1%
9.6%
7.9%

As will be observed, more than eight out of ten Orange County residents think that voting in replacements for Supervisors is a better idea than having a governor appoint them.

Stan Oftelie, President and CEO of the Orange County Business Council, made the key observation: "Generally, almost no one knows anything about this issue -- but both of the key arguments have some traction. Right now it looks like the issue could be won by the most effective storyteller. However, it's worth repeating that so far the issue hasn't even made a small dent in the public's consciousness."


The survey was conducted for the CSUF Center for Public Policy / Orange County Business Council team by the Social Science Research Center at California State University, Fullerton (SSRC). The SSRC Director is Dr. Gregory Robinson.

Telephone interviews were conducted utilizing Computer Assisted Telephone Interviewing (CATI) equipment and software. The CATI system is a sophisticated information gathering protocol that contributes to the accuracy of data and to preserving the random nature of the sample.

A draft survey instrument was provided by the Center for Public Policy and refined by the Social Science Research Center for comprehensiveness, flow, length and factors that influence respondent cooperation and interest.

The sample design was provided by the SSRC, as was technical assistance with data analysis.
The survey of Orange County residents took place between October 24th and November 11th, 2001. 544 randomly selected households are represented in the data. Interviews were in English. Calculated conservatively, the confidence interval for findings noted is plus / minus 4.29%.

North / South County Note. In North / South County breakdowns, these cities were included in the "North:" Anaheim, Brea, Buena Park, Costa Mesa, Cypress, Fountain Valley, Fullerton, Garden Grove, Huntington Beach, La Habra, La Palma, Los Alamitos, Midway City, Newport Beach, Orange, Placentia, Santa Ana, Seal Beach, Stanton, Tustin, Tustin Foothills/Tustin Ranch, Westminster, Yorba Linda.

The following cities were included in the "South": Aliso Viejo, Corona Del Mar, Dana Point, Irvine, Laguna Beach, Laguna Hills, Laguna Niguel, Laguna Woods, Lake Forest, Mission Viejo, Rancho Santa Margarita, San Clemente, San Juan Capistrano.


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