Che Argyros

El Toro Airport Watch No. 129

George Argyros is many things: major land developer, political high roller, big-time check-writer. He has cozied up to presidents and chaired hundreds of fund-raisers, all for pols who mirror his right-wing beliefs. He spent $2 million of his own, hard-earned money on two El Toro International Airport ballot campaigns.

Now, thanks to The New York Times, we know the 62-year-old fund-raising chairman of the California GOP is also a friend of the working man.

In a Dec. 27 story on the fight over the proposed El Toro International Airport, Argyros —who normally disdains talking to the OC press corps—offered the Timesan assessment of the fight that would boil Che Guevara's blood.

"It's a classic case of class warfare to me," Argyros told Times reporter James Sterngold. "The South County is all spanking-new, and they live behind their guarded gates. It's almost the working people of the North against the haves in the South."

This is a side of Argyros we haven't seen before. If we were cynical, we'd say Argyros was merely needling the airport opposition by aligning himself—a near-billionaire megadeveloper—with predominantly working-class northern cities as well as perpetuating the sham view that an airport at El Toro would provide long-term benefits to labor unions.

Argyros the revolutionary lives in a $4.5 million estate (he owns others, but those are for his children and special occasions) on the end of tiny Harbor Island in Newport Bay. Access to the island is strictly controlled and limited to a single-lane, gated bridge. Signs warn away the unwanted. Argyros and the island's other 27 residents lease the formerly public beach that surrounds the island under a special deal pushed through Sacramento a decade ago.

Then again, it's possible Argyros just feels guilty about all the times he's screwed the working man. Perhaps he's never gotten over the 1988 pieces written by then-Orange County Register columnist Bob Emmers on Argyros' habit of parking his chauffeur-driven Rolls-Royce in either the handicapped space or loading zone of his Arnel Development offices. He doesn't do that anymore—not since he had the loading zone repainted into his own private "reserved" parking space.

Or maybe last November's Superior Court award of $1.75 million in damages from construction defects to 24 homes in Yorba Linda's Brighton Estates tract, built by Argyros in the late 1980s, still bothers him. Argyros built only seven neighborhoods of single-family homes in his development career, but 260 residents have so far sued Argyros for damages stemming from allegedly shoddy construction.

Watch for future Argyros agitations on the high cost of living ("What this country needs is a good 5-cent cigar"), job security ("Be happy in your work") and the availability of health care for everyone ("Doctor, it hurts when I do this").

 
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