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Airport Transfer Plan Begins Approach : Recovery: Stanton and Steiner will push for exploration of OCTA takeover in return for cash infusion to county. Viability is still unclear.

July 21, 1995|RENE LYNCH | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SANTA ANA — Two members of the Board of Supervisors want transportation officials to know they are ready and willing to discuss the transfer of John Wayne Airport.

Supervisors Roger R. Stanton and William G. Steiner have asked fellow board members for their support at Tuesday's meeting to direct county and transportation officials to explore the practical and legal issues involving a transfer of airport ownership.

Since the county declared bankruptcy in December, officials have questioned whether selling or transferring ownership of the airport could raise needed cash after a county-run investment pool lost $1.7 billion. Federal aviation regulations appear to stand in the way of sale, but it remains unclear whether transferring the airport to OCTA is viable--or even worth the effort.

Stanton and Steiner stressed that board approval would only result in a "definitive evaluation" of whether the airport can even be transferred under current federal aviation regulations.

"We are simply asking that the county work with OCTA staff to determine if a proposal can be crafted that makes sense to both entities," a board letter signed by Stanton and Steiner says.

The study will hopefully put the issue to rest, the supervisors said.

The OCTA had launched a preliminary study of the issue. But OCTA directors put a $50,000 analysis on hold until the supervisors indicate the county would be willing to negotiate.

Current federal aviation regulations require that all airport revenue be used strictly for airport purposes. As a result, OCTA envisions giving the county roughly $350 million in exchange for first development rights at the El Toro Marine Corps Air Station. Under this scenario, OCTA would then take over operations at John Wayne Airport.

The money for the El Toro purchase would come from Measure M transportation sales tax funds.

It appears there will be enough support among board members to get a study off the ground, even though Supervisor Marian Bergeson has criticized the proposal as a long-term venture that does nothing to solve the county's immediate fiscal problems.

Supervisor Jim Silva has given tentative approval to the project, but he has his own plan for transportation tax funds. Silva wants voters to decide in March whether to divert the tax funds to bankruptcy recovery efforts.

In other developments Thursday, county officials were conducting interviews for a replacement for County Counsel Terry C. Andrus. Recruiters have had difficulty finding candidates willing to take over the job--which involves providing legal analysis and legal representation for the county--during such uncertain times.

Problems facing the new county counsel will include relatively low pay and the prospects of a pay cut, budget cuts and staff layoffs. Andrus earned $114,000 a year but the new county counsel's salary must be negotiated.

The inability to find a replacement caused Andrus to delay his departure for several months.

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