Orange County Supervisor Thomas F. Riley, discussing his retirement publicly for the first time, said Friday that he will not run for reelection in 1990 if two pet projects are completed or well under way.
"I'll go out unless I don't get the airport terminal or the San Joaquin Corridor," Riley said in an interview. Riley, who turns 74 on July 6, is the county's oldest and most senior supervisor.
The planned $297-million expansion of John Wayne Airport is the county's biggest public works project ever. Construction of the two-level terminal is scheduled to begin in May, with a prospective opening date of April 1, 1990.
The proposed San Joaquin freeway would connect the Corona del Mar Freeway in Newport Beach to Interstate 5 near Avery Parkway.
For the Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday June 14, 1987 Orange County Edition Metro Part 2A Page 2 Column 5 Metro Desk 1 inches; 20 words Type of Material: Correction
A story in Saturday's Times incorrectly reported that Orange County Supervisor Thomas F. Riley will be 74 on July 6. He will be 75 on that date.
'Ready to Retire'
"I feel I can get some concrete down within the four years" of his current term, said Riley, a supervisor since 1974. "I can get something to walk on. Then I'm ready to retire."
Despite his age and occasional health problems, which have included severe asthma attacks and, less than three weeks ago, prostate surgery, Riley had never discussed retirement, saying he loved his job.
If there is competition to succeed Riley in his 5th District, the 1990 election could be the most expensive ever for county supervisor, topping the $1-million-plus mark of last year's fight to succeed Ralph B. Clark in the 4th District.
In the past, Sheriff Brad Gates and county Republican Party Chairman Tom Fuentes have been mentioned as possible candidates to succeed Riley. Gates could not be reached for comment Friday and Fuentes would not say, before Riley's actual retirement, what he might do.
Airport Expansion Project
Expansion of the airport, which is in Riley's district, was held up for years by legal battles. Lengthy, painstaking negotiations resulted in a compromise that Riley hailed as one of the major accomplishments during his time in office.
He has also campaigned strongly for the San Joaquin Corridor and said that building the freeway "has been one of my goals since I was a supervisor."
Two of the five supervisors are new this year. Former Anaheim Mayor Don R. Roth won an expensive election to fill the seat vacated by Ralph B. Clark, who decided not to seek reelection after 16 years as a supervisor. Gaddi H. Vasquez was appointed to fill the vacancy created when Bruce Nestande resigned midway through his second four-year term to become a vice president of a development firm.
Riley's announcement of his plans came as he discussed a county grand jury report Thursday that recommended electing supervisors countywide rather than by district and limiting them to two four-year terms.
Riley said that it would be enormously expensive for a supervisor to run countywide and that such elections would result in supervisors who were "not as effective or responsive" to constituents as they are now.
'Public Already Has Choice'
On the question of a two-term limit, Riley said that "the public already has that choice if they don't want to keep you in more than two terms if you haven't done your job well."
There had been questions of whether Riley would run for reelection last year because of his age.
He did run, and racked up 68.7% of the vote in the June election for an easy victory over two opponents.
Riley was a retired Marine Corps brigadier general who had never held elective office when then-Gov. Ronald Reagan picked him in 1974 to replace Supervisor Ronald W. Caspers, who was lost at sea in a boating accident.
Despite his inexperience in government and civilian politics, Riley has always had an easy time of it at the polls, winning by large margins in 1976, 1978, 1982 and last year.
His district runs along the southern Orange County coast from Costa Mesa to San Clemente and inland to Irvine, including large portions of unincorporated territory such as Laguna Niguel and Dana Point, where the supervisor functions much as city councilmen and mayors do in cities.
Fuentes, expressing skepticism that Riley will step down, said: "I suspect that Tom Riley's still got a lot of miles and energy in him. I would not be too quick to commit him to any retirement."
Fuentes, who was an aide to Caspers in 1970-74, described Riley as "one of the best supervisors ever" in the county. "He's a hands-on, people-minded supervisor who is very much in touch with all elements of his constituency and one who gives the time and personal energy to the job at an outstanding level."
Vasquez said if Riley does indeed retire "it would be a major loss."
Vasquez said that Riley "represents the style of politician and government leader that is good for a community in that he is very, very strong on the grass roots and community contact. He's out there with his constituents, he's well liked and he is just someone who is truly committed to the job of being a supervisor."
Board of Supervisors Chairman Roger R. Stanton, who was elected to his first term in 1980, said: "I think the board will miss a giant if Tom Riley steps down. I think he is unsurpassed as far as compassion and sincerity and commitment to hard work."
After his recent surgery, Riley missed just two board meetings. He said that since the operation he feels "really good. My energy level is up tremendously."