Silva's surprise vote and subsequent turnaround—on a suspicious motion by the Irvine Co.'s other shill, Wilson (see "The Irvine Co.'s Manchurian Supervisor," April 14, 2000)—has only one significant impact: because of Wilson's scheduling conflict, the EIRwon't come up for a board vote until mid-October. That pushes back the first phase of airport construction until after the summer of 2002.
Such a delay is a huge assist to the Irvine Co., which hopes to build and sell by next summer 2,500 homes in an area off the 405 freeway and Laguna Canyon Road. That development, tentatively called Planning Area 17, is about two miles from El Toro's east-west runways and a mere one mile from the north-south runways. Talk about being in the crosshairs.
Nothing would frighten off potential homebuyers like nearby international airport construction. And so you might think the Irvine Co. would enter this fight with its lawyers blazing, its planners planning, its enigmatic chairman Donald Bren giving voice to the folly of El Toro International. Instead, in at least three letters to county officials, the company seems to approve of El Toro International—so long as the airport isn't built faster than the company can build and unload homes in Planning Area 17.
The two most recent letters arrived at the county Hall of Administration on Sept. 10 and 14. They are remarkable documents, revealing that the company is comfortable with El Toro with some caveats designed to protect its interests—a "cargo road" on the north end, for example, that might prove useful to the company's projects there and an alteration in flight paths that would circumvent Planning Area 17.
But the letters are more remarkable for what they don't say: they never, ever mention Planning Area 17. There's theatrical "concern" for existing homeowners and a church quite close to 17—but nothing about 17 itself. It's as if the company's biggest current development in Irvine is of no financial consequence whatever. The silence is deafening.
In addition to the letters, of course, there was the political theater. At one point during the El Toro meeting, Spitzer asked, "Has the county addressed the concerns of the Irvine Co.?"
Outside county counsel Michael Gatzke unequivocally replied yes—and in one of those rare candid moments in Orange County politics, added, "In my experience with the Irvine Co., if they have a problem with a specific proposal, they are more than capable of and willing to express themselves."
In this case, the company expressed itself best through the medium of theater. Like any great performance art, this piece required the active enrollment of unwitting participants. Smith, Coad and Spitzer were clearly and honestly stunned. Better yet, the daily press followed predictably in ascribing Silva's strange votes to his stupidity. The Register's Gordon Dillow suggested Silva was too "addle-headed" to understand the ramifications of his vote. The Times' Dana Parsons said Silva deserved "his dunce cap." But Silva's Sept. 18 flip-flop-flip showed the man is at least smart enough to follow orders.