Wealthy Orange County businessman George Argyros' appointment as U.S. ambassador to Spain could come from the White House as early as today, sources told The Times.
If Argyros is confirmed by the Senate, it would mean the departure from Orange County of the most visible and aggressive supporter for the county's most contentious public works project: building a commercial airport at the closed El Toro Marine base.
Airport foes, primarily in the south county, have jokingly offered to help Argyros pack since talk of the ambassadorship surfaced last month. He is often referred to as "King George" on anti-airport Internet sites because of his generous support--$3.5 million so far--for ballot measures promoting the airfield plan.
Argyros has repeatedly declined to comment on his political future after heading a $30-million fund-raising effort in California last year for President Bush. He was unavailable for comment Tuesday.
Argyros' friend and confidant Bruce Nestande said the support base for the airport extends beyond Argyros. It has grown "and become more resolved" in recent years, he said, starting with the three-member, pro-airport majority on the county Board of Supervisors.
"George is a critical linchpin to the success of commercial aviation at El Toro," said Nestande, who is president of the pro-airport Citizens for Jobs and the Economy, formed in 1994 and funded primarily by Argyros.
"Notwithstanding any future potential appointment, he will continue to play an important role," Nestande said.
It's possible that the nomination won't survive the Senate, said airport opponent Mark Petracca of Irvine. Argyros could be stung, Petracca suggested, by adverse publicity from plaintiffs in a class-action civil suit alleging that Argyros' company, Arnel Development, routinely withheld cleaning deposits in violation of state law from renters of its thousands of apartment units.
The allegations are under investigation by the district attorney's office, which has been negotiating a possible settlement with renters.
Argyros has high visibility in other areas of politics and philanthropy in Orange County. He is chairman of the Richard Nixon Library & Birthplace in Yorba Linda and of Chapman University in Orange, and a major Chapman booster and benefactor. He is past chairman of Apria Healthcare in Costa Mesa and once owned the airline AirCal and the Seattle Mariners baseball team.