SANTA ANA — Laguna Niguel City Council members Patricia C. Bates and Thomas W. Wilson are the governor's top choices to replace Marian Bergeson on the Orange County Board of Supervisors, sources close to the decision said Tuesday.
Gov. Pete Wilson is expected to fill the vacancy today, and some sources said he is leaning toward Wilson, 56, a retired aerospace manager. A spokesman for the governor Tuesday declined comment on the pending appointment.
Bates and Wilson said Tuesday that they did not know whom the governor was planning to appoint. The topic was avoided during a Laguna Niguel council meeting Tuesday evening at which council members reelected Bates mayor. Both said that keeping Bates on as mayor was no indication of who might be appointed as county supervisor.
The 5th District seat became vacant when Bergeson resigned in October to become the governor's top education advisor. It is the second time in less than 14 months that the governor has had to fill a vacancy on the board.
The appointment comes at a crucial time for South County residents who are battling plans tobuild a civilian airport and maximum security jail in their community. The board is scheduled to vote next week on the future of the El Toro Marine Corps Air Station.
While a variety of community leaders have endorsed Bates, some airport opponents said they have reservations about Wilson, who they fear is not committed to the fight against a commercial airport at El Toro.
"Where has he been on the airport issue?" said Bill Kogerman, co-chair of Taxpayers for Responsible Planning, the South County-based group helping to lead the fight against an airport at El Toro. "I don't find him to be an advocate for some other use of the base other than an airport."
"He's either a great behind-the-scenes person or in fact he has chosen not to wear an anti-airport banner on his sleeve," Kogerman added.
Others say 5th District residents would be well served by either candidate.
Irvine Councilwoman Christina L. Shea said she was pleased to hear that Bates and Wilson are on the governor's "short list."
"I've endorsed Pat Bates and I would like to see her get the appointment, but either one would be very good," said Shea, an airport opponent. "If it is narrowed down to either of those two, I think we would be well represented in the 5th District, in South County."
In an interview Tuesday, Wilson said he has long held an interest in state and county government and was considering a run for higher office when Bergeson decided to resign and take the state education post.
"When that possibility arose, I decided to apply," he said.
He said he was interviewed last month but has received no indication about whether he will be appointed.
Wilson said he has always opposed the El Toro airport conversion and strongly denied charges from some airport critics that he Patricia C. Bates has recently softened his stand in an effort to win the appointment.
"Tom Wilson has not changed his position," Wilson said. "During my campaigns [for City Council], I have always stated that I am not for an airport. That should be clear to anyone who has talked to me."
Wilson said that he has consistently supported efforts by Laguna Niguel to secure a stronger voice in planning El Toro's future and that he voted to allocate city funds for that purpose. He also said he has made personal financial contributions to anti-airport groups.
Based on his city staff's analysis, Wilson said the El Toro environmental impact report is "flawed" and needs to better address concerns posed by South County residents. But he declined to state whether he would approve or reject the EIR, saying such comments would be inappropriate before the governor makes the appointment.
Wilson was a leader of the Laguna Niguel cityhood movement and has served on the council since its formation in 1989. He was active in helping form the Orange County Fire Authority, an independent agency that oversees county fire service. He has served as chairman of the authority since it began operations in March 1995.
He also serves on the Orange County Transportation Authority, where he has accompanied the agency's financial officials on trips to Wall Street to discuss bonds and bankruptcy issues.
"He is a very bright guy and has an extraordinary grasp of financial issues," OCTA Chief Executive Stan Oftelie said. "He understands the ramifications of the bankruptcy. . . . It would be a great choice."
Wilson holds a master's degree in business from Cal State Long Beach. He retired in 1995 after 30 years as a manager and administrative official at Rockwell International Corp.
Bates, 56, is also a well-known figure in local government. Like Wilson, she was a leader of the Laguna Niguel cityhood movement and a charter council member.
Anti-airport forces and several South County community groups are actively backing Bates for the post. City councils in Mission Viejo, Dana Point and Laguna Niguel have urged the governor to appoint Bates. But Bates admitted Tuesday night that her relationship with Wilson was "tense." She would not elaborate.
Bates is a longtime member of the Transportation Corridor Agencies, which is building the county's first toll roads, and is active in the League of California Cities.
While Bates and Wilson are considered the favorites, other names have surfaced over the last few weeks, including those of former Irvine Mayor Bill Vardoulis, current Irvine Mayor Michael Ward and state water official Mary Jane Forster, a San Juan Capistrano resident.
Also contributing to this report were Times staff writers Eric Bailey, Rene Lynch and Geoff Boucher.