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ORANGE COUNTY PERSPECTIVE : Rallying Around El Toro

August 16, 1993

It was good to hear that officials of some cities felt encouraged after last week's meeting with Orange County officials over who gets the authority to plan the use of El Toro Marine Corps Air Station when the Marines leave. What was not good was expelling the press from the 90-minute gettogether and the decision of several cities to break away from the county effort.

The north-south divide in the county has been exacerbated by the planned closing of El Toro several years from now. Southern cities are concerned about having a commercial airport imposed on them; a number of northern communities believe an airport is the ideal use for the base.

The cities of Garden Grove, Los Alamitos and Stanton set up the Orange County Regional Airport Authority to compete with the county in deciding the future use of the base.

But even the cities that have not yet broken with the county want more than just an advisory role. They want a vote. The problem with that is that the base is within the county's jurisdiction because it's in unincorporated territory. In addition, the county has a large staff experienced in planning land issues.

The county has done a good job so far in not moving too fast in the matter. It has postponed forming a land-use commission to give it more time to negotiate with disaffected cities and see whether a compromise could be reached. But the Pentagon has warned that it does not want to see rival requests for funds to plan for future uses of any of its installations across the country; it wants a unified appeal. George Air Force Base in Victorville closed last year, but a turf battle between local governments has stalled planning. An empty base does no one any good.

Where the county went wrong during this week's meeting with city representatives was in closing the doors to the press. One supervisorial aide said that if reporters were present, officials would "posture." That's the fault of the politicians, not the press. The use of the base is a vital, regional issue that should be debated and decided in public.

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