An Open Letter

To the Department of the Navy:

As you know, this county's Board of Supervisors is the Local Redevelopment Authority for El Toro. You also know the responsibility that entails: the supervisors must find a reuse for the old El Toro Marine Corps Air Station that benefits the county without harming those who live near the base.

What you probably don't know is that the three supervisors who constitute a pro-airport majority on the board have trampled the democratic process and all but declared war on the very citizens who put them into office.

It all started this spring, when the people who live around the base drafted the Safe and Healthy Communities Act—a ballot measure that would make it impossible for the board to build an airport, jail or toxic-waste dump at El Toro or anywhere else in the county without first securing a two-thirds majority vote from the people. Activists gathered 192,000 signatures—more than twice the required number—to qualify that act for the ballot.

Obviously, the pro-airport majority on the board doesn't like the measure. But instead of merely campaigning against it or supporting pro-airport groups in their campaigns against it, Supervisors Cynthia Coad, Chuck Smith and Jim Silva voted last Tuesday to consider three separate initiatives that would run alongside—you might say run over—the Safe and Healthy Communities Act. The measures serve no purpose except to confuse the voters into political paralysis or make them so bitter about the process that they skip voting entirely.

Actually, this happens a lot in California. In 1990, state voters had to contend with four separate auto-insurance reform measures—only one of which actually promised real consumer reform.

Two of the new pro-airport measures try to circumvent the Safe and Healthy Communities Act by stealing some of its appeal. One would allow the Board of Supervisors to ask for a popular vote on any new jail or toxic-waste dump construction. The second measure would require the supervisors to hold such a vote. Both measures are junk. Neither measure mentions an airport as a noxious use. Neither measure defines what constitutes jails, toxic-waste dumps, expansion or construction. In addition, neither measure includes any provision for holding public hearings. And neither contains any language on future amendments—leaving open the possibility that future supervisors might rewrite the measures at will.

The last new measure isn't even binding. It's simply advisory, asking voters whether it's a good idea for the county to turn over airport planning and “implementation responsibilities” to a Joint Powers Authority insulated from popular pressure. This would allow the supervisors to accomplish by bureaucratic fiat what they have been unable to accomplish through democracy.

The new measures come from Los Alamitos Councilman Ron Bates, a member of the Newport Beach-based Orange County Airport Alliance. Bates now calls himself chairman of the newly formed “Citizens Right-to-Vote Committee.” Bates comes from a city built around another military airfield, this one operated by the Air National Guard. But should it close, residents fear it, too, could become a commercial airport—a possibility strengthened should El Toro opponents win.

Clearly, Bates is willing to do unto others as he would not have them do unto himself: ram an airport down the throats of those who live around El Toro to save his own constituents from a similar fate. It's hard to find a better example of cynicism.

Of course, this latest tactic is completely in line with the pro-airport majority's political style. County officials have already demanded that anti-airport citizens' groups release their financial statements merely because they opposed county policy; junked the years and millions of dollars spent on developing commercial uses around El Toro in favor of parks, making it easier for Silva to run a re-election campaign against his anti-airport opponent; denied 5th District Supervisor Tom Wilson—who represents people who live around El Toro—information on county officials lobbying Washington; routinely told residents that a big cargo airport would bring in “$4.9 billion” despite the fact that no one could say where that number came from; spent $1 million on noise demonstrations at El Toro only to tell residents afterward the tests were “unscientific.”

That's why I'm hoping that you can step in and do what is obviously beyond the county board: act honorably to ensure the people of Orange County retain their right to decide what to do with the El Toro Marine Corps Air Station.

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