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L.A. Pushes El Toro Airport

Land use: A delegation representing cities around LAX seeks FAA intervention as Navy considers sale of base.

April 18, 2002|JEAN O. PASCO | TIMES STAFF WRITER

In an eleventh-hour effort to revive an airport at the El Toro Marine base, elected officials in Los Angeles County have asked federal transportation officials to intervene with the Navy in hopes of postponing next week's expected decision to sell the closed site.

The appeal from a dozen elected officials representing areas around Los Angeles International Airport was delivered by letter Tuesday to Federal Aviation Administrator Jane Garvey and Secretary of Transportation Norman Y. Mineta.

"Department of Transportation and FAA must carefully consider the consequences of eliminating a viable airport resource in the midst of a nationwide airport capacity crisis," said the letter, signed by Los Angeles Mayor James K. Hahn, Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Los Angeles), Assemblyman George Nakano (D-Torrance), Los Angeles County Supervisor Don Knabe, Los Angeles Councilwoman Ruth Galanter and El Segundo Mayor Mike Gordon, among others.

Gordon led a delegation of local officials to Washington on Tuesday to meet with Garvey about El Toro. The FAA has said repeatedly that federal law allows Orange County to determine what happens to the base; voters on March 5 replaced airport zoning at the 4,700-acre property with zoning for a large park, nature preserve and limited development.

"People in the federal government should not concur that the airport is dead," Gordon said Wednesday. He cited two pending lawsuits over the March 5 vote and airport initiative that backers hope to qualify for the November ballot.

There are "a lot of mechanisms" for an airport to be built at El Toro, including the property staying in federal hands and being developed by the FAA, he said. There are two such airports nationally--both in Washington, D.C.

"There is still a great deal of life left in this debate," Gordon said.

Wrong, said Irvine Councilman Mike Ward. Orange County supervisors agreed Tuesday to allow Irvine to annex the property, and Irvine officials will meet with Navy officials today in Washington. They will ask the Navy to give the bulk of the base to the city in exchange for payments from the development of 1,500 houses on the southern tip of the property.

"The airport is dead," Ward said. "The people in Los Angeles need to be looking at [airports in] Palmdale and other places. This is a political move to appease some of their voters" who don't want LAX expanded.

A Hahn spokesman said the mayor didn't attend the Washington meeting but has told Mineta and Garvey privately that building an airport at El Toro is crucial for Southern California's air passenger and cargo transportation. Hahn supports a limited expansion of LAX to 78 million passengers a year, with growth spread to other airports in the region.

"The burden of having air transportation and cargo exploding at LAX is no longer an option," Hahn spokesman Matt Milbrook said. But "we don't control this decision. There's only so much we can do."

Deputy Mayor Troy Edwards echoed the interest in El Toro by officials in Los Angeles, which operates the largest commercial airport in California. He said that Hahn feels strongly that there needs to be a regional plan to cope with the area's air traffic, and that an airport at El Toro should be part of that equation.

"The mayor has emphasized that Orange County should pick up their fair share of their traffic," Edwards said. "It's unfair that LAX should be asked to shoulder the burden of the region's aviation traffic demands."

Garvey's office couldn't be reached for comment Wednesday on whether the FAA will intervene with the Navy.

Among those who made the trip to Washington were Galanter; Sandy Jacobs, vice mayor of El Segundo; Monterey Park Mayor Francisco Alonzo; Ontario Mayor Gary Ovitz; Los Alamitos Mayor Ronald Bates; Garden Grove Councilman Mark Rosen; Art Bloomer, executive director of the Orange County Regional Airport Authority; Stacy Murphy, vice mayor of Burbank; and Larry Kirkley, mayor pro tem of Inglewood.

The meeting was arranged by Rep. Jane Harman (D-Venice). Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Huntington Beach) and staffers from the offices of Reps. Joe Baca (D-Rialto) and Jerry Lewis (R-Redlands) also attended.

To counter the lobbying onslaught, anti-airport forces this week distributed a poll to the FAA, Navy, and federal and local officials showing that 61% of Orange County voters oppose building an airport at El Toro. The poll of 750 registered voters countywide was used to counter arguments by pro-airport forces that public support remains for an airport at El Toro because 20 out of 34 cities voted against last month's park measure.

In the middle of the competing lobbying efforts, Orange County Supervisor Cynthia P. Coad, who cast Tuesday's pivotal vote to allow Irvine to annex the base, said she wants the city to put in writing a promise to share as much as $800,000 a year in property tax revenue from base development with the county.

The money would be used to create more parks in north Orange County.

An agreement approved Tuesday by supervisors calls for Irvine to share 82% of property tax funds from the base. But that amount would be zero if the city follows through with plans to create a redevelopment agency to fund improvements at the base.

Creating a redevelopment zone diverts all new property taxes into a redevelopment fund; there are no taxes currently paid on El Toro to be shared because the federal government doesn't pay local property taxes.

Coad indicated Wednesday that without that agreement, she would oppose Irvine's final annexation application.

Ward said Coad will have a promise in writing within two weeks to lock in the future tax revenue.

"We will make sure that there are the funds that Supervisor Coad wants somehow," Ward said. "She went out on a limb to support us and we really, really appreciate it."

*

Times staff writers David Reyes and Matea Gold contributed to this report.

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