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CAMPAIGN 2000 | MEASURE F

Anti-Airport Initiative Leading Big

El Toro: O.C. voters apparently agree to mandatory two-thirds approval of electorate before major projects.

March 08, 2000|JEAN O. PASCO | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Win or lose, Measure F's ramifications extend far beyond Orange County's borders and into regional airport planning. Among those against the measure were opponents of a planned expansion of Los Angeles International Airport. They argued that El Toro must be built to take pressure off LAX. Other interest groups, such as businesses at Ontario Airport, urged a yes vote on the measure, hoping the Inland Empire airport would benefit from growth that didn't occur at El Toro.

After previous measures on an El Toro airport helped propel the commercial project along, the anti-airport forces this time drafted a measure intended to entice voters with the idea that all such "noxious" public uses should receive overwhelming support because of their harmful impacts. The idea resonated beyond South County among a county electorate fearful that something they didn't want built next door might be next.

Mindful of that sentiment, drafters of Measure F added building restrictions on hazardous waste landfills. However, there are no landfills in Orange County that accept hazardous waste, and none are planned. State law already restricts where such landfills can be built.

Despite its authors' hope for countywide appeal, Measure F was most heavily supported throughout South County, led by communities adjacent to the closed Marine base. Its text, in fact, was written by a coalition of South County cities.

Armed with millions from recent budget surpluses, the cities joined to promote a non-aviation plan for the base and to poke holes in the county's airport planning. By law, they were barred from advocating a position on Measure F, but the timing and tone of their mail made their sentiments clear.

Neighborhoods around John Wayne Airport energized against the measure late, organizing about a month before Tuesday's election after a series of community meetings warned that the county's only commercial airport likely will be expanded if El Toro isn't built.

Measure opponents sent out their first No on F mail pieces just two weeks before the election. A flurry of mail arrived in the last four days in an attempt to swing a sizable block of undecided voters.

Joining the last-minute blitz were unions and Latino activists, arguing that the measure would unfairly cluster maximum-security jail beds in Santa Ana and Orange.

Airport backers also had to contend with voters who remained unconvinced that a new airport is needed for Orange County. In several polls, a majority of voters opposed the county's plans for El Toro and said John Wayne Airport should be the county's only airport.

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Times staff writers Seema Mehta and David Haldane contributed to this report.

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