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Anti-Airport Forces Appear on Way to Win

Move to require approval by two-thirds of the voters is aimed at El Toro, as well as toxic dumps and jails.


Orange County voters appeared to be on their way Tuesday to approving an anti-El Toro airport measure that also aims to force sweeping changes in the way the county government plans major projects.

Early results were leaning toward Measure F, which would require approval by two-thirds of the voters before the Board of Supervisors could build airports, hazardous-waste landfills or jails with more than 1,000 beds within half a mile of homes.

If the results hold, it would be the first victory for anti-airport forces on an issue that has dominated Orange County's political attention for six years. The airport was approved by voters in 1994; a move to rescind that approval failed two years later.

"The passage of Measure F is more than a rejection of El Toro airport; it's a rejection of the planning process and the corrupt approach by a majority of [county] supervisors," said south Orange County activist Tristan Krogius at the Holiday Inn in Laguna Hills, where several hundred Yes on F volunteers gathered.

Bruce Nestande, chairman of the No on F committee, conceded that opponents had an uphill battle. But even if the measure passes, he said, it won't stop airport planning because the land still is zoned for an airport.

"They can claim victory and if they win, they win. But when the dust settles, what do they have?" he said. "They'll have paid a high price for a victory that doesn't get them anyplace."

The battle over Measure F has raged in south Orange County, where many residents see an El Toro airport as a threat to safety, quiet and property values. Animosity toward the airport soared after two days of demonstration flights in June gave residents a sense of what life might be like with commercial jets landing and taking off over their homes.

Airport opponents seized on Measure F's voter-imposed protection as a defense against future government incursion. Many voters said before the election that they supported the measure not because of the airport but because it would force government to prove to two-thirds of voters countywide that large projects were necessary.

Measure F supporters gathered more than $1.5 million to push forits passage, collecting funds from more than 10,000 donors, mostly in south Orange County.

In addition to throwing airport planning into disarray, Measure F threatened to halt the county's plans to expand the James A. Musick branch jail in Lake Forest without a public vote. The jail expansion, approved in 1998, has been tied up in court challenges by Irvine and Lake Forest.

Measure F opponents have vowed that if the measure passed, it would be challenged in court. If it stands, it would require county supervisors to place a fourth El Toro airport measure before voters.

The fight against Measure F was funded almost entirely by Orange County businessman George Argyros, who contributed $1.2 million of the $1.3 million spent in the effort to defeat it. Argyros says he is committed to the airport because of his belief that an airport is essential to the county's economic future.

Last-minute campaign mailers attacking the measure often ignored the airport and warned voters instead that its restriction on jail construction would lead to a plethora of smaller jails built within cities. The measure binds county supervisors but not city councils.

Win or lose, Measure F's ramifications extend far beyond Orange County's borders and into regional airport planning. Opponents of a planned expansion of Los Angeles International Airport, for example, argued that El Toro must be built to take pressure off LAX. But other interest groups, such as businesses at Ontario Airport, urged a yes vote on the measure, hoping the Inland Empire airport would benefit.

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