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New El Toro Battle Costs Official a Seat

Fellow supervisors yank airport advocate Chuck Smith from a regional board. They say it restores a balance. He calls it 'retribution.'

June 18, 2003|Jean O. Pasco | Times Staff Writer

Renewed debate over building a commercial airport at El Toro claimed its first political casualty Tuesday when Orange County Supervisor Chuck Smith was removed as the county's representative on a regional planning agency.

Three members of the five-member Board of Supervisors said Smith could no longer serve on the Southern California Assn. of Governments because he supports a move by Los Angeles to lease the closed Marine base from the federal government for an airport.

Smith's backing of the idea is "a miscarriage of representation," board Chairman Tom Wilson said.

Smith, who served for 10 years on the regional panel and was in line to be its president next year, unsuccessfully urged his colleagues to resist the "politics of retribution." He was replaced by Supervisor Chris Norby, who opposes an El Toro airport.

But Smith's ouster may be only temporary.

On Monday, the Orange County Transportation Authority will consider appointing Smith as its first voting representative to SCAG. The move would mean paying annual dues of $25,000 but would keep Smith's place in line to replace Brea Mayor Bev Perry as the panel's president in April 2004.

"Chuck Smith is in a key position at SCAG," OCTA board Chairman Tim Keenan of Cypress said Tuesday after the supervisors' vote. "This has nothing to do with the airport. Having Bev Perry and Chuck Smith in key positions has been helpful to Orange County and to OCTA."

Smith said he was "very flattered" by Keenan's proposal.

Until now, the transportation authority hasn't been directly involved in the El Toro debate. The county spent eight years planning for an airport, which ended last year when Orange County voters approved new zoning for El Toro that ruled out an airport and authorized parkland, sports fields, exposition centers and other development.

The transportation authority has six city members: four from pro-airport cities and two from anti-airport cities. It also has a public member and four members from the Board of Supervisors -- Smith and Jim Silva, who favor an airport, and Norby and Bill Campbell, who oppose one.

No matter the vote, Smith will keep his nonvoting membership on SCAG's transportation committee and aviation task force, posts to which he was previously appointed as an OCTA representative.

A majority of supervisors praised Smith in general but said the question of what happens at El Toro is too important to ignore when it comes to key appointments. While SCAG has no authority to build or operate an airport, it drafts regional transportation plans that serve as blueprints for federal funding. Past plans have called for an airport at El Toro, serving 30 million passengers a year, though the panel recently voted to delete an airport from its 2004 plan.

Norby, backed by anti-airport forces in his 2002 election, pledged to consider the transportation needs of the region as the new Orange County representative. He said Los Angeles operates other airports, in Ontario and Palmdale, that welcome growth and where growth should be encouraged.

The L.A. proposal calls for leasing El Toro base from the U.S. Transportation Department.

"We reject the federal imposition of an airport at El Toro," he said.

The SCAG panel includes 74 voting members and represents governments from six counties: Orange, Los Angeles, Ventura, San Bernardino, Riverside and Imperial. Transportation commissions in the counties are also allowed voting memberships on the main SCAG council, though only Ventura and Riverside counties have seated some.

In his remarks to fellow supervisors, Smith denied misusing his position to promote an airport at El Toro and said he wouldn't do so in the future. The regional panel has no authority to build an airport, he said.

Several of Smith's colleagues on the regional board had asked his fellow supervisors to let him stay. Those colleagues include Perry, who sits as an alternate on the OCTA board.

"This is motivated by political retribution of the worst kind," Smith said of the board vote.

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