With two weeks until election day, the proposed El Toro airport and deciding on the power of the county executive officer have suddenly turned a sleepy 4th Supervisorial District race upside down.
In a surprise move, outgoing Supervisor William G. Steiner decided to endorse Cynthia Coad over his friend Lou Lopez, an Anaheim city councilman.
For the Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday October 24, 1998 Orange County Edition Metro Part B Page 2 Orange County Focus Desk 1 inches; 32 words Type of Material: Correction
Supervisor race--A story Tuesday incorrectly stated that the Committees of Correspondence, an anti-tax group, backed a candidate for the Orange County Board of Supervisors. The group does not endorse political candidates.
Steiner said Lopez has let him down on two key issues. Steiner supports the current role of the county executive officer and is pro-airport, while Lopez opposes the county executive's contract and is wavering on his airport position.
"He has dodged or been lukewarm on issues that are important to me," said Steiner. "He vacillates and there is too much at stake here."
Though Lopez's positions may have hurt him with Steiner and airport boosters, they have gained support from several powerful grass-roots and homeowners organizations that oppose the airport and the county executive's power in hiring department heads.
At stake is the fate of the controversial El Toro airport plan, which so far has been approved by a 3-2 majority on the board--a balance that could change if Lopez is voted into office.
In another crucial race, pro-airport incumbent Supervisor Jim Silva is facing a tough battle with Huntington Beach Councilman Dave Sullivan, who opposes the airport and whose campaign has been funded by South County anti-airport residents. Supervisors Todd Spitzer and Thomas W. Wilson oppose the proposed airport. A final vote on the airport will not come until December 1999.
County Chief Executive Jan Mittermeier's contract also hangs in the balance because it was approved on a 3-2 vote this month with Spitzer and Wilson in the minority. Sullivan has made it clear he does not support her power to hire department heads and has turned it into a campaign issue against Silva.
Coad, who consistently has been in support of the airport and Mittermeier's three-year contract extension, said she was happy to receive Steiner's backing.
"It's a very, very valuable endorsement," said Coad, a North County Community College District board member. "The constituents in the district are, for the most part, business people and what I am in favor of are sound business practices to run the county."
In his letter to Lopez, Steiner said that although he does "not have a long relationship with her, as I do with you, I am convinced that she is the most qualified candidate . . . I am not sure that you would be a good supervisor given your tendency to change your position on issues that are important to good governance."
Lopez angered Steiner by criticizing the supervisors' vote on Mittermeier's contract. Like Wilson and Spitzer, Lopez supports a 3-2 vote for the board to overrule any department head appointment instead of the 4-1 vote the board approved.
Lopez, 54, said he was disappointed by Steiner's decision not to endorse him, but said he would be elected by residents of the district not on the basis of endorsements from county leaders.
"I think Mr. Steiner should have graciously said, 'I'm going to let the next supervisor make that decision,' " Lopez said. "I think it's wrong to have made that decision and have the next board committed to that woman."
Though Lopez was solidly pro-airport a few months ago, he now says he will not support an airport without a curfew such as the night-flight ban at John Wayne Airport. In addition, Lopez has been telling residents of Anaheim Hills that that he opposes flights over their homes. But Steiner points out in his letter that "can't have it both ways."
In addition, federal legislation has made it nearly impossible to impose night-time curfews.
Lopez said he cannot overlook the many concerns about the potential traffic and pollution problems at meetings with homeowners groups and other organizations.
"My constituents are worried about the traffic and congestion and how it would impact their quality of life," said Lopez. "I would support an airport that has restrictions on it, but the airport folks don't think that is good enough."
Orange Taxpayers and the Committees of Correspondence, made up of homeowners groups and taxpayers associations, is backing Lopez because of his opposition to Mittermeier and the international airport. The Committees of Correspondence, an umbrella organization made up of 32 groups throughout the county, boasts more than 3,000 members--the majority in Anaheim, which is the largest city in the 4th District.
"Lou will not give all of his control to Mittermeier," said Carole Walters, head of the Orange Taxpayers. "We will be putting out flyers to ask our members to support Lou."