A Silva Foot in His Mouth

In the May 31 issue of OC Metro, columnist Hugh Hewitt fulfilled that most Republican of traditions: patting a fellow Republican on the back. Hewitt praised Jim Silva using the I-word, saying the county supervisor who represents Huntington Beach and Costa Mesa "acts with integrity."

Hewitt failed to use the other I-word, "intelligence," in his praise of Silva, and it's easy to see why. Silva is a master of dumb. During a June 6 presentation before 100 Newport Beach residents on the subject of John Wayne Airport, he dispensed an endless stream of non sequiturs, misinformation and platitudes that would gag a greeting-card writer.

The Newport audience wanted to hear what might be done to keep a lid on flights out of John Wayne Airport, but Silva couldn't keep a lid on his subconscious. He asked who in the audience remembered drag races at the airport, explained that El Toro was a "non-issue" with people in his district, said he opposed "billions" for light rail, said he'd rather talk about the airport than the county's 1994 bankruptcy, and discussed that night's NBA finals game involving the Lakers and Sixers.

"I want to know about this basketball game I keep hearing about," he told the silent audience. And then, when you could practically hear the crickets chirping, he added with no apparent sense of irony, "I haven't watched one basketball game all year, so I might as well miss this one."

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Then he started ripping the South County's enormously popular Great Park proposal. "It will cost a billion dollars to buy the land for a park," said Silva. He cited no evidence and indeed boldly ignored South County's plan to get the land under a federal conveyance similar to the one the county would use to get the base for free.

Then Silva claimed park-maintenance costs would bankrupt the county. "The cheapest cost I've found to maintain the park is between $35 million and $70 million per year," Silva said, again citing no sources. He also ignored the fact that the annual maintenance budget for the entire San Francisco parks department—which oversees that city's massive Golden Gate Park—is $40 million.

Piling non-fact upon non-fact, Silva asserted with finality that there would never be a park at El Toro. "The county doesn't have that money, so the land will be sold . . . to developers . . . to build houses," he said. "It will become another city the size and population of Santa Ana."

Who knows what Silva was thinking when he came up with that one? El Toro's area is 7.3 square miles; at 27 square miles, Santa Ana is nearly four times as large. If you want to compare OC cities to El Toro, that sprawling metropolis La Habra, at 7.4 square miles, provides the best match.

The idea of an El Toro International Airport is kept aloft on such methane—methane and money, mostly George Argyros' money. Someone in the audience pointed out that Argyros may well be on his way to Spain; having raised millions for the George W. Bush campaign, Argyros has since been named the Bush administration's choice for ambassador in Madrid. If he goes, what will become of El Toro?

"To me, this isn't a George Argyros issue," Silva said. And then we were rewarded with a kind of fractal Silva—a dumb guy playing dumb, Silva denying that he really knows Argyros: "I read about him in the papers all the time."

Argyros is, in fact, one of Silva's most consistent campaign contributors, having given him nearly $3,000 and having hosted several fund-raisers since Silva first got elected to the Board of Supervisors in 1994. But it is true that Argyros has made the papers a lot in the past couple of months. There are the stories about his property-management company allegedly bilking hundreds of Argyros' tenants out of their security deposits. There are stories about how the district attorney—an Argyros political ally—inexplicably withdrew his own office's lawsuit against Argyros a mere 90 minutes after it was filed. And there are stories suggesting that Argyros—who has no foreign-service experience—got his ambassadorial nomination solely because he served as President George W. Bush's money man in California.

Whether Argyros actually becomes an ambassador remains to be seen. But Silva, clearly not the brightest porch light on the block, will likely be sticking around Orange County for a long time.

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