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Agreement at Last: The Fight Is Far From Over

The vote some thought would solve question for good instead solves nothing, at least for now. But more airport measures could be coming up.


When it comes to plans to build an international airport at El Toro, both sides agree that the approval of Measure F by voters on Tuesday is far from the end of the contentious issues.

Indeed, the initiative that some thought could solve the airport issue once and for all doesn't solve anything, really. At least not for now.

"It's just the beginning of another chapter, that's what it is," said Leonard Krasner of Citizens for Safe and Healthy Communities--Yes on F. "But it's an important chapter."

Measure F requires approval by two-thirds of Orange County voters before county officials could build or expand airports, large jails near homes and hazardous-waste landfills.

The ballot measure's passage gives anti-airport forces a strong boost, but it is hardly an airport-killer. There are questions about its constitutionality, which airport supporters said they would challenge in court. In fact, the judge who placed the measure on the ballot said she had grave "concerns" about its legality.

And it is unlikely that the pro-airport majority on the Board of Supervisors will stop its planning process. The board is scheduled to vote on the latest environmental impact report in June, and pro-airport forces are vowing to move forward regardless of the balloting.

Had it gone the other way, the failure of Measure F wouldn't have guaranteed the airport either. The Federal Aviation Administration, which has ultimate say on the airport and would help fund its construction, has not yet weighed in. And the Air Line Pilots Assn., which is the nation's largest pilots union, has expressed safety concerns over several takeoff patterns at the former base.

What is for sure is that the issue will have a lasting impact on relations between the more established cities in the north, which generally support the airport, and the younger, wealthier cities in the south that have bankrolled the airport fight.

"Thanks to what you could call an excruciating planning process by the county, there will be a permanent North County/South County schism," said Fred Smoller, a political science professor at Chapman University.

Heavily promoted in South County, where anti-airport sentiment is the strongest, Measure F was intended to draw support in other areas, particularly since history so far has favored the airport plan. In 1994, voters approved Measure A, which rezoned the base for an airport and airport-related uses. An attempt two years later to rescind Measure A failed.

Airport proponents sued to keep Measure F off the ballot and accused the initiative's supporters of packing it with "red herrings" unrelated to the airport because they were afraid they would lose again otherwise.

"This whole campaign was such a flagrant example of flawed public policy," said Bruce Nestande, chairman of Citizens for Jobs and the Economy, one of the groups pushing for an airport.

Nestande and other supporters said it will be "business as usual" in the airport planning process. If Measure F holds up in court, proponents would try to repeal it in another measure. A simple majority is all it would take, he said.

Airport foes face another hurdle in the wake of Measure F's passage: To end the airport planning process, opponents will need to put another measure on the ballot to kill Measure A, passed by voters in 1994, which zoned the El Toro base for aviation use.

Then, another ballot measure could be needed to move forward with South County's vision of building homes, retail developments, offices, parks, a university and museums at the base instead.

Still, airport opponents said Tuesday they'll be ready to carry on. They point out that polls show their non-aviation "Millennium Plan" is more popular with voters than the airport.

"If we win this, we know there will be litigation and all sorts of side-angle attacks and stealth maneuvers for months and years to come," said Bill Kogerman, a Yes on F organizer. "We're not going to sleep on this win. About the only thing it'll get us is a day to catch our breath."

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