YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

El Toro Reuse Issue Dominates Election Season in Lake Forest : Politics: City that is steeped in base controversy has big say in the matter. Its council race could affect the rest of O.C.


LAKE FOREST — This is a pivotal city in the battle over reuse of the El Toro Marine Air Station and, because of that, the council race here could have an impact in communities throughout Orange County.

And while the hottest political rumor in Lake Forest these days is that several candidates have a secret pro-airport agenda, no candidate publicly supports conversion of El Toro into a commercial airport. That would be political suicide, all agree.

Lake Forest is one of the few Orange County cities that can directly affect the base-conversion process. The city has one of nine votes on the El Toro Reuse Powers Authority's board of directors, one of the most powerful groups angling for the right to convert the base.

Although they are unable to offer any proof, at least half of the 12 candidates running for three council seats remain convinced that several other candidates secretly favor building an airport on the base.

However, other candidates say there is no secret agenda, and that the airport issue is distracting attention from other city matters.

Insurance broker Joe Hernandez, businessman Robert Forsberg and attorney Peter Herzog say the real struggle is between pro-business candidates, like themselves, and a coalition of local attorney Thomas Whaling, Mayor Marcia Rudolph and Kathryn McCullough, who are advocating rent control for mobile-home parks.

Whaling is the attorney for mobile-home tenants, mostly senior citizens, who have unsuccessfully pushed the council for rent control in the past two years. Rudolph has been a supporter of the mobile-home tenants.

Whaling said he supports rent stabilization, but only for mobile-home parks, in order to help protect people on fixed incomes from excessive rent increases. McCullough, who runs a nonprofit homeless program, says rent control should be implemented only as a last resort.

Hernandez, Forsberg, incumbent Councilman Richard T. Dixon and local businesswoman Venturis Shaw are strident opponents of rent control who believe that government should interfere as little as possible in the community's business affairs.

Another major issue facing the city is the potential annexation of the Foothill Ranch and Portola Hills communities.

So far, residents of the unincorporated communities have had mixed feelings about becoming part of Lake Forest.

Candidate Mark Malatesta, a Lake Forest resident, and Dixon say merging the communities would be the best move for all. The trick is to convince Foothill Ranch and Portola Hills residents by showing them the benefits of being affiliated with Lake Forest, rather than forcing annexation on them, both candidates said.

Among other issues:

Rudolph, toolmaker David Ferber Jr. and others said tough ordinances restricting adult businesses need to be enacted.

Other candidates criticized the way Lake Forest is run. Whaling believes City Hall employees aren't responsive to the public, saying that residents complain about phone calls not being returned by city administrators.

Some hopefuls have particular ideas about improving Lake Forest.

Tom Bokosky would create a business review committee to see to the needs of merchants.

DeWayne Stark wants to see a Neighborhood Watch-style organization set up with citizens reporting their problems to City Hall.

While there is little direct evidence to connect any candidate with the pro-airport political camp, some candidates are suspicious about the involvement in Lake Forest politics by the Lincoln Club, a powerful Republican group whose membership includes the most influential members of the airport movement.

The Lincoln Club has chosen Lake Forest as one of about 10 cities where it says it will financially support and endorse council candidates. On Oct. 14, the club is expected to choose candidates to support and has interviewed all 12, according to an election committee member. So far, Lake Forest is the only South County city whose candidates have met with the Lincoln Club.

A member of the group's election committee said they aren't trying to create a pro-airport majority on the Lake Forest council.

Los Angeles Times Articles