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CAMPAIGN 2000

'Yes on F' Also a Vote of No Confidence in County

Analysis: Breadth of win--only two cities opposed it-- unified North with South in doubting El Toro planners.

March 09, 2000|JEAN O. PASCO and RAY F. HERNDON | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

Only two Orange County cities--Newport Beach and Costa Mesa--voted against the anti-El Toro airport initiative, a sign that the sharp divide that once characterized the fight over the fate of the base has turned into a countywide lack of confidence in the 5-year-old, $40-million airport planning effort.

The two coastal communities were expected to oppose the initiative because they are threatened by an expansion of John Wayne Airport if an El Toro airport fails. But a Times computer analysis of Tuesday's vote shows the difference in this election was a surprising shift in the populous North County, which for years has thrown its support behind an El Toro airfield.

The breadth of support--the margin was 67% to 33%--was a clear referendum against the county's airport planning process, said Fred Smoller, political science professor at Chapman University in Orange. The results suggest that even voters who favor the airport supported Measure F because of a concern that it was being "railroaded" into South County, he said.

"There were many people who realized that a flawed initiative was a better way to go than a really flawed planning process," Smoller said. "It's a vote of no confidence in the El Toro project."

The computer analysis did not include 100,000 ballots yet to be counted Wednesday. Unofficial results showed 67% of Orange County voters backed Measure F. The initiative requires two-thirds voter approval before county officials can build new airports, jails with more than 1,000 beds within a half-mile of homes and hazardous-waste landfills.

The measure was favored resoundingly throughout South County, the heart of the anti-airport movement and home of the eight cities that joined to write the measure last year. Communities closest to the former El Toro Marine Corps Air Station were among the measure's biggest supporters.

In the community bordering the retired base, 95.4% of voters supported Measure F. The initiative was supported by more than 93% of voters in Aliso Viejo and Laguna Woods, neighborhoods that fall beneath the flight path of the proposed airport. Laguna Woods also led the county in voter turnout, with 68% of registered voters going to the polls, according to election data.

Even Backers Surprised by Margin of Victory

The measure fared well in the rest of the county as well, especially in Tustin, where it enjoyed 67.7% of voter support. North County cities posted similarly sound majorities, from 62.8% in La Palma to 56% in Villa Park.

Measure supporters were joyous but exhausted Wednesday as they contemplated the rout's reach. Polls before the election showed the measure leading, but not by its ultimate margin.

"We've found throughout the process that the initiative was very popular countywide and it showed up in the results," said Len Kranser, spokesman for Citizens for Safe and Healthy Communities--Yes on F.

In the wake of the drubbing by anti-airport forces, speculation abounded as to who in county government might be called to answer for the crisis in confidence in airport planning. An immediate target was County Executive Officer Janice Mittermeier, whose office has steered the project.

Board chairman Charles V. Smith said Wednesday that Mittermeier should not be blamed for an election swayed by millions of dollars drawn from South County city funds. He said he is satisfied with Mittermeier's performance and added that the county intends to move forward with airport planning.

But the measure's strength in North County could come back to haunt Smith and colleagues Cynthia Coad and Jim Silva, the other members of the board's pro-airport majority, by putting them at odd with their constituents.

All the cities in Smith's and Coad's districts voted heavily in favor of Measure F. The same was true for Silva's district, with the exception of Costa Mesa, which narrowly voted against the measure.

In yet another twist, Newport Beach, which includes Balboa Island and Corona del Mar, opposed Measure F by more than a 2-to-1 ratio; that city falls within the area represented by anti-airport Supervisor Tom Wilson.

Measure F opponents pledged to file suit by week's end, claiming that the measure is unconstitutional. They will argue that only a constitutional amendment--and not a ballot initiative--can demand a two-thirds voter requirement.

A Superior Court judge who reviewed the measure before the election noted "grave concerns about its validity," but allowed it to go before voters.

Another alternative, opponents said, is to attempt to rescind Measure F by placing a competing ballot measure on the November ballot.

"We said all along that it's bad public policy, and it is," said Bruce Nestande, chairman of Citizens for Jobs and the Economy, which spearheaded the No on F effort.

That campaign was fueled by $1.2 million in donations from Orange County airport booster George Argyros. Another $100,000 was contributed by other airport supporters, most in the last two weeks of the campaign.

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