Photo by Jeanne RiceWhen the political history of Orange County is written, the overwhelming victory of Measure F is likely to loom large. In approving Measure F—also known as the Safe and Healthy Communities Act—local voters asserted for the first time their right to vote on huge developments, including the El Toro International Airport.
When that history is written, it's also likely to note that Measure F's passage was followed almost immediately by internal bloodletting among the victors.
As the airport's wealthy backers prepare legal challenges and counter-initiatives, the anti-airport coalition is once again tearing itself apart. On March 13, members loyal to the South County group Taxpayers for Responsible Planning (TRP) tried to oust Irvine-based Project 99 from the coalition. The coalition vote failed, but the effort shows the extent to which TRP fears and loathes Project 99's chairman, Irvine Councilman Larry Agran.
More disturbing, on the same day, the man most responsible for Measure F's victory suddenly resigned, saying he needs to return to his family and his law practice.
"I just don't feel there's a need for my day-to-day politicking," said Jeffrey Metzger, a Coto de Caza resident and attorney. "With the legal challenges now, the fight against the airport is basically in another branch of government."
As chairman of the Citizens for Safe and Healthy Communities (CSHC) coalition, Metzger helped keep the disparate anti-airport groups—like Project 99 and TRP—from destroying one another during the campaign.
His departure leaves TRP chief Bill Kogerman at the top of the CSHC—and spells trouble for the anti-airport movement. Numerous officials and activists say Metzger had more to do with Measure F's success than any other individual. "He was our General Eisenhower," said an official. "He dealt with all the jokers."
Yet the official victory story put out by some of those jokers was that Kogerman was Measure F's hero. That spin was uncritically accepted and passed along in a March 12 story by Los Angeles Times reporter Jean O. Pasco. She referred to Kogerman as the campaign's "behind-the-scenes operator" who coordinated "a commanding army of volunteers."
In fact, the true story behind Measure F's success is the story of Jeffrey Metzger and his critical decision to allow activists to bypass Kogerman.
According to anti-airport activists contacted by the Weekly, Kogerman's preferred strategy for Measure F was to concentrate on South County voters. That was a strategy he employed in two previous campaigns to kill the airport—in 1994 and 1996—and it produced bitter, stinging countywide defeats in both.
"Kogerman wanted to focus on airports, not jails, and on South County, not North," said an activist. "That's how he took the last two measures down."
Fearing a replay this year, anti-airport activists did what they'd never done before: defying Kogerman, they took the airport fight to North and Central county cities.
First, they wrote into Measure F a provision to block "noxious uses" other than the airport—waste sites and jails are specifically noted. Even in traditionally pro-airport communities, activists figured that might tip the electoral balance in Measure F's favor.
Metzger understood the need to campaign north of the 55 freeway. Metzger worked with Agran ally and Irvine activist Ed Dornan to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars and send a stunning 1.5 million pieces of pro-Measure F mail into such cities as Anaheim, Orange and Fullerton during the last three weeks of the campaign. The mailers concentrated on Measure F's anti-jail provisions and its requirement that all large land-use decisions pass with a two-thirds majority.
The mailers dropped into cities already prepared by veteran activist Marion Pack. Recruited by Agran and eventually put on the anti-airport payroll by Metzger, Pack has years of grassroots experience in anti-nuclear and environmental campaigns. She had already helped gather 20,000 to 30,000 signatures throughout North County to qualify Measure F for the ballot. Once the initiative qualified, Pack organized a series of public meetings in Orange and Fullerton last summer. Each of those—held in what were supposed to be pro-airport cities—brought in close to 100 people. By contrast, a county-sponsored pro-airport meeting in Tustin held a week before the Measure F election brought in barely two dozen citizens.
"We found many people receptive to not having supervisors shove development down their throats," said Pack. "People didn't realize that they didn't already have a say in these projects."
The results of the North County operation were substantial: in 1996, Kogerman's anti-airport Measure S died in every city north of the 55 freeway. This time out, Measure F won in every city in the county except Costa Mesa and Newport Beach.
That victory and the groundwork that made it possible cost money—money Kogerman and TRP weren't willing to spend. "Kogerman wanted to sit on his ass in the South [County] and talk to his developer friends," said one activist, who described herself as "bitter" over the Times story. Numerous anti-airport activists say TRP never cared about appealing to North County cities and vehemently opposed including jails as one of the "noxious uses" covered by Measure F.
Kogerman's high-powered, pro-development consultant Tom Shepard argued throughout the campaign that including jails might hurt—even doom—Measure F's passage. He pointed out that the sheriff and district attorney lobbied against Measure F, repeating the specious arguments that it would prevent them from building new jails and thus force them to release dangerous criminals early. By the end of the campaign, Sheriff Mike Carona finally admitted that demand for new jail space wasn't nearly as dire as he originally thought.
"A month before the election, Shepard was saying they would win by a landslide, but only if they didn't go against law enforcement," said a Measure F activist.
So how to explain Measure F's success in North County? Kogerman said, in hindsight, including the jails "turned out to be not as big a concern as I thought it would be." But Kogerman also said he didn't know whether including jails in Measure F "was something that substantially aided the campaign or not." Kogerman also said he "had no idea" whether the North County mailings had anything to do with the win. (Shepard was unavailable for comment for this story.)
In fact, both the final election results and the polling conducted during the campaign showed the fallacy in that argument.
Metzger knew all that was nonsense. He knew the key to winning was getting North County support. To do that, Metzger helped Agran and Dornan set up a separate financing source—the Citizens for Safe and Healthy Communities Fund. The fund raised a phenomenal $700,000 to pay for the North County mailings. Dornan ran the fund, but immediately following the election, Metzger signed a fund letter asking for further donations, explaining that advocacy of an initiative to build a county park at El Toro was the next logical step in the battle to kill the airport.
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When they saw the letter, insiders say, Kogerman and other TRP members exploded. On March 10, top CSHC officials—all Kogerman loyalists—signed an accusatory e-mail denouncing the fund. "[I]t seems that someone tries to claim more credit than they deserve, or to take advantage of the outcome," read the letter, identifying Dornan, Agran and Metzger as the guilty parties. The letter further referred to the fund as having "diverted money from the main CSHC campaign." In addition, the fund "is not expected to pay for the legal defense of our Committee and the initiative."
Metzger said the e-mail offended him, casting doubt on the thousands of people who contributed to Dornan's legitimate political-action committee. "I find it offensive that any group would attempt to discourage anyone from contributing," he said. "The election has been won. We should finish the job by killing the airport. That requires everyone to work together. An e-mail such as this will only discourage people from joining the process."
The inclusion of Agran in the denunciation is understandable. Agran stands for everything Kogerman despises: liberalism and slow-growth politics. Kogerman—whose group has diverted its attention from purely airport politics to side with the developers of the Dana Point Headlands—fought Agran's influence over anti-airport politics from the day the Marines first announced they'd close El Toro.
With Metzger gone, Kogerman is once again on top. To make matters worse, the threat of a counter initiative looms for the November general election, when turnout is traditionally higher than in primary races. The pro-airport crew's idea is that they could scrounge enough votes from that higher turnout to tip Measure F off the books. It's not likely that could happen, but preventing it will require the same attention to North County cities that Metzger's presence ensured.