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Orange County

Backers of Airport Win in Court Test

El Toro: Appellate justices uphold a ruling that had tossed out Measure F as unconstitutional.

January 05, 2002|DAN WEIKEL | TIMES STAFF WRITER

In a victory for El Toro airport supporters, an appellate court Friday upheld the decision of a Los Angeles judge to throw out Measure F--an Orange County ballot initiative that required two-thirds voter approval for major public works projects, including commercial airports.

The decision does not affect Measure W, a March ballot measure that would convert the former El Toro Marine Corps Air Station into a huge urban park instead of a commercial airport.

"This is a huge, huge win," said Barbara Lichman, executive director of the Airport Working Group, the leading proponent of converting the base into an airport. "If we had lost on this, things would have changed greatly."

In its 32-page opinion, a state appeals court in San Diego concurred with Superior Court Judge S. James Otero, who in December 2000 ruled that Measure F was "fundamentally flawed" and violated the California Constitution.

Otero concluded that the initiative thwarted the authority of the county Board of Supervisors, interfered with essential government functions and was unconstitutionally vague.

Airports, jails and hazardous-waste landfills are essential responsibilities of local government, Otero wrote. "Although these powers may be subject to restrictions under the initiative process, an initiative cannot be used to greatly impair or wholly destroy those powers."

Opponents of converting the base into a commercial airport appealed Otero's decision in an attempt to reinstate Measure F.

Agreeing with Otero, justices concluded that Measure F "interferes with the essential government functions of fiscal planning and land use planning. It impermissibly interferes with administrative and executive acts, and it is unconstitutionally vague," making it difficult for the supervisors to comply with.

"This win changes things greatly," said Lichman, who added that pro-airport forces might challenge Measure W in court if it passes.

El Toro airport opponents downplayed the court decision, saying that things have swung dramatically in their favor since Otero's ruling. They cited the "Great Park" initiative and a number of opinion polls, which indicate that a majority of Orange County voters oppose a new airport.

"This does not take away from the fact that 67% of the voters in this county want another opportunity to vote on the airport," said Meg Waters, a spokeswoman for the El Toro Reuse Planning Authority. Richard Jacobs, an attorney for the antiairport authority, said he will recommend to the organization's board that they appeal the Measure F ruling to the state Supreme Court.

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