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TIMES ORANGE COUNTY POLL : 6 of 10 Oppose El Toro Commercial Airport


About six out of 10 Orange County voters say they are opposed to a measure proposed for the November ballot to require conversion of the El Toro Marine Corps Air Station into a commercial airport, according to a new Times Orange County Poll.

If the election was held today, the poll showed, 58% of the county's registered voters would vote against an El Toro airport, while only 39% would support the non-binding measure.

Opposition to the airport has remained constant over the past year, and actually increased slightly. An April, 1993, Times Orange County Poll showed that 54% of the county's voters were opposed to a commercial airport at El Toro, while 39% favored it.

The latest Times Orange County Poll, conducted from May 19 to May 22, showed that opposition to the airport is solid in both northern and southern areas of the county.

When the measure was filed with the registrar of voters in March, most observers thought it would generate a regional battle, with residents in the northern cities favoring the new airport and South County residents opposing it.

But a telephone survey of 600 registered voters found that a majority in both regions oppose the airport--54% of North County voters and 68% in the south. When presented with various alternatives for the reuse of the base, scheduled to close by 1999, only 28% of those polled favored a commercial airport at the site, just slightly ahead of the 20% who want to see it converted into an industrial-commercial zone.

When voters were offered similar alternatives in the 1993 poll, they favored an industrial-commercial zone at El Toro by 22%, followed closely by 21% who wanted a commercial airport there.

The recent Times Orange County Poll was conducted by Mark Baldassare & Associates and included several questions about the proposal to build a new airport at El Toro. Cheryl Katz, who co-directed the poll, said voters are not convinced the airport would become the "job machine" promised by proponents of the ballot measure, called the Orange County/El Toro Economic Stimulus Initiative.

"People don't see the clear benefits of a second major airport in Orange County," said Katz. "They are reluctant to approve something they think will end up costing taxpayers money."

Even though the airport was the top choice in the recent poll when voters were offered several alternatives for developing El Toro, Katz said support for it is still soft.

"There isn't a significant consensus on the airport. Proponents can say that it remains the top choice, but 28% (support) is really a low number," Katz said.

Backers of the airport initiative, including several influential business and political leaders in the county, have until Wednesday to collect at least 66,703 signatures on a petition to place the measure on the Nov. 8 ballot. Business groups favoring the airport claim it would create 21,000 new jobs in the county.

However, Katz said backers of the initiative have not succeeded in convincing voters that the airport would be a boost to the local economy. She said that county residents "are still very concerned about jobs."

The proposed initiative asks voters to approve an amendment to the county's General Plan to authorize a civilian airport on about 2,000 acres of the 4,700-acre base. In addition, the measure seeks permission from the military for use of the base runways by commercial air cargo carriers while the Marines go ahead with plans to leave the base by 1999.

But the initiative is an advisory measure, and even if it is approved by voters, the Marines have said they do not favor joint use of the El Toro base.

Mary Maguire, a Lake Forest resident, said she intends to vote against the initiative and does not believe a new airport would have a positive impact on the county's economy or the quality of life in surrounding cities.

"It's a two-edge sword. I don't think we would see that many new jobs," said Maguire, 40. "But even if it did improve the economy, it would be done at the expense of the communities around El Toro. We would be giving up our quality of life. This area could become like the communities around Los Angeles (International) Airport."

Garden Grove resident Charles Lamourex, 57, supports the initiative and believes a new airport would improve the county's economy.

"Even if El Toro became just a cargo airport, there would be a number of new jobs that would be created. The demand for cargo handlers alone would be significant," said Lamourex, an environmental consultant.

Poll respondents expressed little confidence that the El Toro Reuse Planning Authority--the county agency sanctioned to study redevelopment options for the base--can come up with a development plan for the base that would stimulate the economy and create jobs.

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