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ORANGE COUNTY PERSPECTIVE

Coad Threat to Base's Future

June 16, 2002

It's time for Supervisor Cynthia P. Coad to drop her ill-advised bid to generate funds for parks in north Orange County by holding hostage Irvine's plan to annex the former El Toro Marine base. Coad wrongly has tied her support for the annexation to a demand that the city turn over up to $800,000 a year for 100 years to help fund park improvements in the north.

Coad is threatening to rescind her April vote supporting annexation if Irvine doesn't deliver a funding proposal by June 25. Coad's demand jeopardizes the already complex process of turning El Toro from an abandoned military base into a community asset.

Coad's desire to improve the quality and quantity of parks in north Orange County is laudable. The supervisor understandably wants to pull something from the wreckage of the El Toro debate, and what better way to solidify her legacy than by providing a free source of funding for badly needed parks and open space? Hanging the park-improvement tab on Irvine, though, is troublesome on several levels. It's also symptomatic of withdrawal pains evident in some quarters as a county gradually lays down its arms after the lengthy pitched battle over the base's future.

Coad argues that the swap--her vote in exchange for an outside source of park funding--is justified because south Orange County residents stand to benefit more from the promised Great Park than residents who live in the north. Voters, though, have had their say--several times--on El Toro, and after eight years of arguing and $54 million spent on El Toro-related planning, it's important that the debate doesn't again stray into the quicksand of regional politics.

There are sound reasons why Irvine, whose city limits eventually will surround the base, should annex El Toro and supervise the redevelopment. Should Coad stick to her threat to rescind her swing vote, the base would remain under county control. Supervisors approved Irvine's annexation plans by a 3-2 vote in April. If Irvine can't annex the land, the county would be charged with developing the former base under the guidelines of the voter-passed Measure W, as well as be on the hook for attendant expenses, including potentially significant environmental cleanup costs.

If Coad won't back down, supervisors Chuck Smith and Jim Silva should reverse their votes--or start explaining where the county will get the funds to develop the Great Park.

On the political front, it's questionable whether Coad's funding scheme would survive past January, when the veteran supervisor will turn over her seat to newcomer Chris Norby. And, even if the park-funding deal were to be struck, it's hard to imagine a future, cash-strapped board not being tempted to use the park fund for more immediate needs.

Irvine also needs to step back and review its role in the parks-funding gambit. Now that a commercial airport has been rejected, the city should be in the lead when it comes to El Toro's future. Its proximity to the base and expertise at land-use planning in the environs give it sound credentials as redevelopment authority under federal base reuse guidelines. But the city in April hurriedly agreed to Coad's park-funding demand, apparently in an effort to provide a united front during negotiations with the U.S. Navy. Irvine has said it would use property taxes to generate the payments, but the Navy is exempt from property taxes, and it could take years before development reaches the level needed to spin off enough property taxes for Irvine to shift into Coad's parks fund.

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