One of the nation's most expensive land-use battles will face its fourth ballot test Tuesday when Orange County voters decide whether to replace plans for an airport at El Toro with zoning for a large urban park.
Voters face the airport decision and dozens of others, from whether to reelect a judge charged with child molestation to consideration of several multimillion-dollar school bond proposals.
Factions have battled for eight years over the 4,700-acre Marine base, which closed in July 1999. Nearly $100 million has been spent in the debate, including about $50 million by the county to plan for the airport.
Measure W would rezone the base for non-airport uses; the only way to change that would be by yet another vote. Airport foes hope this vote will be the last, citing shifting political winds and the evaporation of significant financial support from airport boosters.
"I think everybody is looking at this to be the final decision," said Cynthia P. Coad, chairwoman of the Board of Supervisors, which has backed the airport by 3-to-2 votes.
Maybe not everybody.
"The election doesn't stop the need for airport capacity in Orange County," said Bruce Nestande, chairman of the chief pro-airport group.
Supervisors haven't said what they would do if the measure passes Tuesday. A poll commissioned by the Los Angeles Times found that a majority of likely voters in Orange County support the measure, with support even stronger when voters were told that it could kill the airport.
Navy officials also haven't said how they would react to a rezoning of the base
Airport opponents have waged a nonstop election campaign with newspaper and television advertisements touting development of a "Great Park" for the base, though the initiative only changes zoning for the property within the county general plan and does not actually call for a park to be built.
Airport backers argue that developing the park would require a tax increase because of the cost of building the museums, sports fields and other amenities envisioned. Measure W backers say no tax increase would be needed.
The core of opposition to an El Toro airport comes from the cities nearest the base, which was built on bean fields east of Irvine. Critics worry that property values will plunge and that the airport will destroy their suburban quality of life. Supporters say an airport would ensure Orange County's economic future.
The El Toro battle affects Coad's bid to keep her 4th District seat. Staunchly pro-airport, she faces Fullerton City Councilman Chris Norby, an El Toro airport foe.
If Norby unseats Coad, it would shift the majority on the board and effectively kill the airport plan regardless of what happens with Measure W.
Coad won her seat four years ago by campaigning not just as an airport supporter, but also as a reformer who would revitalize neglected North County neighborhoods. Her work made her popular with voters in Anaheim and Orange, but her district has been redrawn to reflect the 2000 Census and no longer includes some of her strongholds.
Coad came under fire from Republicans--including Norby--hoping to keep organized labor from spreading in Orange County after she supported a landmark pact requiring that union members make up at least 85% of the workers on new major county public works projects. The pro-airport majority forged the pact to get union support for the El Toro plan.
Norby crusades for redevelopment reform. He believes local officials should create alliances to stop companies with big retail projects from pitting cities against each other to get bigger tax breaks.
The race for district attorney has become one of the most bitter in recent history, as veteran prosecutor Wallace Wade challenges his boss, Dist. Atty. Tony Rackauckas.
Wade's campaign is focused almost exclusively on charges Rackauckas abused his authority for political gain during his three years in office. Rackauckas, in turn, criticizes Wade's record as a prosecutor and questions whether he has the skill to run the office.
Rackauckas easily defeated Wade for the office four years ago, enjoying broad support from prosecutors. But some of those working for him have since said they were unhappy with their boss for various personnel moves and his handling of some cases.
The biggest dispute came over Rackauckas' involvement in a consumer-protection case involving George Argyros, who is now U.S. ambassador to Spain and who donated $1,000 to Rackauckas' 1998 campaign through his real estate management company.
Rackauckas ordered prosecutors to withdraw a lawsuit against the company, which was accused of unfairly keeping security deposits from thousands of tenants. Rackauckas then took over settlement negotiations himself. After critics faulted his actions, Rackauckas handed the case over to the state attorney general.