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2 Cities Snub County Panel on El Toro's Future : Land use: Laguna Hills and Stanton opt for plan giving communities more power. They join a bloc that is challenging O.C.'s lead role in deciding the fate of the base.


Laguna Hills and Stanton on Tuesday night joined with other Orange County cities in rejecting a proposed county government plan for deciding the future of the El Toro Marine Corps Air Station.

City councils of the two communities instead voted for alternative proposals--ones that would give Orange County cities more power in deciding what is to happen to the base when it closes within the next six years. Some other cities, including Mission Viejo and Irvine, also have rejected the county's proposal for an advisory committee on El Toro.

County officials are scheduled to meet today with South Orange County city representatives in an attempt to reconcile the issue.

The county has urged cities to sign up now or get left out of its committee plan for deciding the fate of the base. But some cities, especially in south Orange County, have generally voted to hang tough and challenge county government on the issue.

Laguna Hills' City Council on Tuesday night continued that trend by unanimously voting in favor of a Joint Powers Authority to decide El Toro's future, rather than joining in the county government proposal.

Laguna Hills council member Melody Carruth summed up South County distrust of the county plan. She said the county's proposed 19-member advisory committee on the future of El Toro "is skewed in favor of the interests of north and central Orange County and weighs heavily against our ability to protect our interests in south Orange County."

The cities are seeking a vote--not just an advisory voice--when final decisions are made about El Toro. But the county has so far refused to relinquish any control of the massive 4,700-acre site to cities.

Orange County cities are not in total agreement on whether the base should be converted into a commercial airport. But there is a consensus among some cities that the supervisors should not be the sole and final authority on what happens to El Toro.

At stake in the power play is future control over the base, which is scheduled to be vacated in four to six years.

The county's own plan--expected to be the focal point of discussions at today's meeting--would limit the involvement of some cities to membership on a 19-member advisory panel that would also include the two supervisors representing South County, appointees named by all the supervisors, and business and industry representatives. The supervisors would make the final land-use decisions, and cities that do not go along with the county would be cut off from the process, according to the last proposal considered by the supervisors.

On Monday, the Mission Viejo City Council stood solidly behind the idea of a united South County and voted unanimously to support a joint powers agency.

"This is one issue that is going to galvanize South County like no other issue has," said Mayor Robert D. Breton. "It's going to be the biggest wake-up call South County has ever had. Things are happening fast and furious."

The Mission Viejo mayor added: "We'd like the county to be part of the (joint powers agency). No one is proposing doing this without them."

Lake Forest and Irvine previously adopted similar resolutions. Irvine, however, wants a third of the vote, with the other two-thirds split between other South County cities and the county.

The Irvine council, meanwhile, asked its staff to explore the costs of annexing all or part of the base as a way to control whatever redevelopment occurs in the future. Expecting that such a move might trigger a legal battle with the county, the staff will also look at the possible legal fees.

City officials maintain that they were earlier convinced by top county officials to hold off on annexation of El Toro in exchange for letting Irvine participate in future decisions regarding the base--a promise county officials have denied making.

"Since at this point in time, they haven't lived up their end of the bargain, we need to explore it again," Irvine Mayor Pro Tem Barry J. Hammond said before the meeting. "I think this is important to protect Irvine and the South County cities."

In North County, Anaheim and Stanton on Tuesday night had on their agendas a third alternative--a countywide agency calling itself the Orange County Regional Airport Authority.

But Anaheim's City Council decided to table the item without discussion.

Stanton's City Council, however, took up the issue Tuesday night, and after brief discussion unanimously approved the city's joining the proposed Orange County Regional Airport Authority.

Garden Grove already had adopted the concept, and an organizational meeting of the airport authority is scheduled today.

But earlier this week, one of strongest airport proponents, Newport Beach, formally abandoned the airport authority and agreed to work with the county.

Staff writers Kevin Johnson, Richard Core, Frank Messina, Willson Cummer, Shelby Grad and Terry Spencer contributed to this report.

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