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El Toro Airport Vote Appears Evenly Split

November 09, 1994|H.G. REZA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Voters appeared evenly split Tuesday over one of the most divisive land-use issues in Orange County history, whether to place a commercial airport at El Toro Marine Corps Air Station.

Meanwhile, in other hard-fought campaigns, voters in Dana Point were defeating two measures that would allow a $500-million development on the Headlands, while voters were approving term limits in Buena Park and Tustin.

But of the 12 separate ballot measures throughout the Orange County, easily the biggest and most divisive was Measure A. Shortly before Election Day, polls had shown county voters evenly split on the proposal to build an airport once the Marines leave their air station at El Toro in 1999 as part of a federal program to reduce the military.

Norm Grossman, spokesman for anti-Measure A forces, clung to hope that the initiative would be defeated on the strength of late-tallied votes from South County, where opposition to the airport was running more than 2 to 1.

"If these are mostly votes from North County precincts, we're delighted. If they include South County votes, it's a different story," Grossman said.

Early in the evening, Garden Grove City Councilman Mark Leyes, a Measure A supporter, was confident the initiative would pass.

"I think we've made the voters aware of how important a new airport is to the county," Leyes said.

Proponents of the initiative, which was mostly the creation of Newport Beach developers George Argyros and Buck Johns, argued that an airport would create thousands of jobs and generate millions in revenue for the Orange County economy.

Opponents attacked the measure as planning through the ballot box because it bypasses the El Toro Reuse Planning Authority, the county agency formed to create a development plan for the Marine base. The planning group is studying various options for the facility, including a possible airport.

In Dana Point, Measures C and D would permit development of a 400-room hotel and up to 370 homes on 121 acres near Dana Point Harbor, one of the few remaining open coastal areas in Southern California.

The development project was approved by the Dana Point City Council in April, but opponents succeeded in gathering enough signatures on a petition to put the referendums on the ballot. Backers maintained the development would be balanced, scaled down from earlier proposals and generate revenue for the city. Foes believe the project would change the area's character and contribute to such problems as traffic.

In the waning weeks of the heated campaign, even the phrase "Save the Headlands" became a divisive issue and ended up in Superior Court.

The measures' foes, who for months had called themselves the "Save the Headlands" group, became incensed when proponents used the phrase on campaign literature.

Opponents won an injunction--temporarily at least--preventing the pro-development group from using it and similar phrases. The injunction was lifted Friday by an appeals court and no final resolution of the matter was made by Election Day.

The Headlands property is owned by the M.H. Sherman Co. and Chandis Securities Co. Chandis Securities, a firm that oversees the financial holdings of the Chandler family, is a major stockholder in Times Mirror Co., publisher of the Los Angeles Times.

A spokesman with the residents' group that opposes the development was encouraged by the returns, particularly since the group had been significantly outspent in campaigning.

"The fight is a little closer to being over," said Geoffrey Lachner, chairman of Save the Headlands. "This is great news."

Backers of the project also remained hopeful although the vote was going against them.

"We don't like the trend, but we're still optimistic," said Bill Shepherd, co-chairman of the Headlands Fair Plan Committee. "The last election (June city election) took several days before we got the final results. We'll be here until the last votes are reported."

Elsewhere, an advisory measure that would limit the number of terms served by Buena Park City Council members, without specifying the number of terms that can be served, was leading in early returns.

Tustin voters were asked to decide on two competing measures to limit the number of terms served by council members, as well as a proposal to make city contracts for collection and disposal of solid waste and collection of recyclable materials subject to competitive bidding.

Measure H, which limits Tustin council members to two full terms of four years each, was winning. The initiative was backed by council members Jim Potts, Michael J. Doyle and Tracy Worley. Doyle said the measure was needed to guard against "career politicians."

Mayor Thomas R. Saltarelli and Councilman Jeffery M. Thomas offered a competing proposal, Measure I, which limits council members to three full terms. Voters appeared to be rejecting that initiative.

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