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South County Cities Reaffirm Their Bid for El Toro Control : Planning: Municipalities' position hardens as they refuse to join county supervisors' panel.


South County cities are gathering momentum in their campaign to challenge the Board of Supervisors for control of the El Toro Marine Corps Air Station, with Mission Viejo and Laguna Niguel reaffirming this week their intent to join a rival planning agency.

But as the South County city councils vote one by one in favor of a joint powers authority that would compete with the county's committee to study post-military use of El Toro, they are are still holding out hope that the supervisors will join them.

"We cannot do this without the county, and the county cannot do this without us," Mission Viejo Mayor Robert D. Breton conceded during his council's meeting Monday. "We are not jumping ship; we would like the county to join us" in planning the base conversion.

But County Administrative Officer Ernie Schneider said the county will not join either the anti-airport South County faction, or a third group, a pro-airport faction, recently formed by North County cities, because neither side is neutral on whether the 4,700-acre base should become a regional commercial airport.

Only the county supervisors have promised to objectively consider the base's redevelopment options, Schneider added.

South County cities "are not aware as to how much time and how much money and how much energy needs to go into a reuse plan for a facility as large as this," Schneider said. "And when we have a joint powers authority in the south, and we have a competing JPA in the north, then it's going to be an economic catastrophe for the entire county, and I think South County cities are just as shortsighted as the north."

Defense Department officials have threatened to hold back millions of dollars in planning grants until Orange County unifies behind one planning group.

The county will convene its 21-member advisory group, which includes city officials, in two to three weeks to try to alleviate some of the lingering doubts about the county's plan, Schneider said.

But South County cities want to break away because the county has refused to give them a share of the final decision-making authority on El Toro's future. And officials in other cities contend they were ignored, because Anaheim and Newport Beach were the only cities outside South County invited to join the county's committee.

Meanwhile, the interim chairman of the North County coalition, Garden Grove Councilman Mark Leyes, attempted to unite the cities by offering to change the name of his group--from "Orange County Regional Airport Authority," to the less-offensive "Orange County Reuse Authority."

"The idea is to make it more attractive to other players in the county," Leyes said before the Garden Grove council meeting Tuesday. "It offends a lot of people who think we are trying to foist an airport in South County."

But the gesture was not enough for Lake Forest Councilwoman Marcia Rudolph, who along with other South County officials maintains that North County should have no say in how El Toro is redeveloped.

"Mark, dearest, a message from Marcia: 'You are not adjacent to the base,' " Rudolph said.

Meanwhile Monday night, the Garden Grove council agreed unanimously to try to persuade Los Alamitos and Stanton not to seek a general aviation airport as that group's primary goal. "This is an effort to get as many interests that have a stake in El Toro to discuss it as rationally as possible," Leyes said.

Anaheim, a strong airport proponent, postponed for a third time Tuesday a vote on whether to join the North County coalition or the county's advisory task force. The county has threatened to take away the cities' seats on the county task force if they join a competing group.

Earlier this week, Laguna Niguel and Mission Viejo city councils restated their support for a South County joint powers authority which also would include Irvine, Laguna Beach, Laguna Hills and Lake Forest.

"I'm excited," Mission Viejo Councilwoman Sharon Cody said. "It's wonderful to watch the coming of age of South County."

Mission Viejo City Manager Fred Sorsabal said their coalition has "as much chance as the county" to be recognized by Washington as the official planning agency.

Times correspondents Bob Barker, Richard Core, Frank Messina and Terry Spencer contributed to this report.

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