Disneyland Decides It Doesn't Need El Toro Airport:
In surprise, top official says LAX and freeway improvements are enough to get extra millions to new park.
By JEAN O. PASCO, E. SCOTT RECKARD, Times Staff Writers
A top Disney official said this week that Disneyland doesn't
need an airport at the closed El Toro Marine base to bring more
tourists to the Orange County theme park, stunning airport backers
who have counted on the company's support.
In the first public statement by a Disney executive about the
proposed airport, Walt Disney Attractions President Paul Pressler
said Los Angeles International Airport and improvements to the
San Diego and Santa Ana freeways are adequate to serve future
"We feel the Los Angeles airport will accommodate our needs,
particularly with the road expansions that are going on throughout
Orange County," Pressler said Tuesday after remarks to a tourism
class at Cal State Fullerton.
His comment shocked El Toro backers.
They counted on Disneyland support to underscore the need for
a new airport, which the county envisions will serve up to 28.8
million passengers a year by 2020. The park is the largest
tourism-based employer in Orange County with 10,000 workers
and expects to hire 5,000 more before opening its second theme
park in Anaheim in 2001.
Board of Supervisors Chairman Charles V. Smith, the leading
county official backing an El Toro airport, said Pressler was
"misinformed" to believe freeways and LAX alone will keep up with
air travel demand--especially since a proposal to expand LAX has
hit roadblocks from cities near the airport.
"Disneyland is going to be the biggest destination for tourists
coming in to El Toro [airport]," Smith said. "Disneyland will get
more benefit from El Toro than any other business in Orange
Foes of an El Toro airport lauded Pressler, saying his comment
acknowledges that LAX should remain the only sizable international
airport in Southern California. Orange County officials have said El
Toro, which would be Southern California's second-largest airport,
could serve international destinations, but a large number of flights
"I applaud him for being honest," said Susan Withrow, a
member of the Mission Viejo City Council and chair of the
anti-airport El Toro Reuse Planning Authority. "He ought to convey
that to the mayor of Anaheim."
Disney Was Thought Firmly for El Toro
Disneyland has been viewed as firmly in the pro-El Toro camp
because of its key positions on the Anaheim/Orange County
Convention and Visitors Bureau and the Orange County Business
Council, both of which support the airport as necessary to
accommodate tourism growth in the next century.
Three years ago, Disney gave $50,000 to the pro-airport
Citizens for Jobs and the Economy to help defeat an anti-airport
measure in a countywide election, said Bruce Nestande, the group's
"The fact that Disneyland attracts customers worldwide, and
with the increasing congestion on our freeways, the need for El
Toro is obvious," Nestande said Wednesday. "By denying [it
needs] El Toro and saying everyone can reach Disneyland on
surface streets, they'd just exacerbate the problem."
Disneyland spokesman Ray Gomez said Wednesday that
Pressler's comments reflect company research.
"We've done looks-forward to determine where our guest flows
will be and, based on that, we believe LAX is adequate to handle
our needs," Gomez said.
However, he said the company hasn't taken an official position
on whether the new airport at El Toro should be built.
Projections by the Business Council show that nearly 5 million
visitors a year to Anaheim and Disneyland will be arriving at area
airports by 2010. If El Toro were built, about 2 million people still
would fly into LAX, and 2 million would use El Toro, according to
a December 1998 council report. The remaining 1 million visitors
would use John Wayne Airport.
Anaheim Mayor Tom Daly said Orange County's $5.7-billion
tourism industry has been "loud and clear" on the need for El Toro.
Of 38 million tourists to the county in 1998, about 5.4 million were
Daly said Pressler's comment shows that Disney is "aggressively
neutral" on the El Toro issue, a position that didn't surprise the
"The airport debate is a mess, and they don't want to take
sides," Daly said.
Many large businesses in Orange County have demurred from
taking public stands on El Toro because of the issue's incredible
divisiveness. Most South County residents fervently oppose the
airport, while most North County residents support the idea, though
with less passion.
The Irvine Co., for example, which owns most of the land
around the base, repeatedly has refused to take a position on the
airport, saying that it cannot do so until more is known about the
Disney executives reportedly met a few months ago with
pro-airport officials and voiced continued support for El Toro
planning efforts. But the executives said they wouldn't push the plan
publicly out of fear of a South County backlash, said one person
who attended the meeting but asked to remain anonymous.
Other outspoken executives who have voiced support for the
airport were hit with threats of protests and boycotts, including
Darrel Anderson, a general partner at Knott's Berry Farm; Roger
Embrey, general manager for the Southern California Gas Co., and
Bob Montgomery, senior director of business properties for
After Montgomery's comments in May, Southwest Chief
Executive Herb Kelleher assured anti-airport forces by letter that
the company would not interfere with the decision about whether to
build the airport.
Disney Says It Has More Pressing Concerns
Walt Disney Co. is more worried about the economy and its
need for talented new employees, Pressler said Tuesday at the
university, where Disney is co-sponsoring a new undergraduate
program in entertainment and tourism.
Before being named president of Walt Disney Attractions last
December, Pressler was president of Disneyland, where his chief
task was planning Disney's California Adventure, now under
construction next to Disneyland.
Disney is spending $1.4 billion on the new park, a new luxury
hotel called the Grand Californian and Downtown Disney, a retail,
dining and entertainment zone. It expects to attract 7 million visitors
a year at the new park, in addition to about 13 million a year at
To guarantee the expansion's financial success, Disney
persuaded Anaheim and other public entities to spend hundreds of
millions of dollars more to upgrade utilities and roadways in the
area, including freeway offramps feeding directly into a huge Disney
At a regional tourism conference last week, participants noted
that several other new entertainment draws will attract visitors at the
same time as the new Disney complex. They include
entertainment-oriented areas in Hollywood and Long Beach and an
expansion at Knott's Berry Farm in Buena Park.
The conference, held in Long Beach and attended heavily by
Orange County's travel and tourism businesses, focused on such
concerns as educating travelers about the network of rail lines and
marketing Southern California as a region, to combat tough
competition from Las Vegas and other destinations.
But the conference's moderator, Jack Kyser, an economist at
the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corp., warned
that construction of an airport at El Toro may be a long way off.
Political infighting and likely court battles over El Toro make an
airport there "something that probably no one in this room will see
in their lifetime," he said.