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Irvine Still Fights L.A. Over a Fizzled Airport Proposal

September 25, 2003|Jean O. Pasco | Times Staff Writer

A proposal by Los Angeles Mayor James K. Hahn to develop a commercial airport at the closed El Toro Marine base may be all but dead, but Irvine City Hall isn't ready to bury the issue.

Irvine has issued a call to arms to county residents, warning of efforts by Los Angeles to lease the base from the federal government to relieve passenger-load pressure at Los Angeles International Airport. Voters received a folded 11-by-17-inch mailer this month touting the city's plans for a Great Park in the center of the base, with a reply card to the city denouncing Hahn's involvement.

Never mind that Hahn's proposal, made quietly in April and publicly revealed in June, was quickly dismissed by nearly everyone involved in making such a decision.

Federal officials, including acting Navy Secretary H.T. Johnson and Secretary of Transportation Norman Y. Mineta, insisted they wouldn't veer from last year's rejection of the airport plan by Orange County voters. The voters approved zoning for sports fields and other development at El Toro that the city dubbed the Great Park.

That didn't stop the Irvine mailer from blaring, "Hands Off Our Great Park, Mayor Hahn!" It was sent to 500,000 homes this month at a cost of at least $250,000.

About 20,000 reply cards have been returned so far, a city consultant said. The names may be used in a future newspaper advertisement, with addresses kept on file for future mailings.

Irvine resident Adam Probolsky, a Republican political consultant, got the oversize mailer at his condo and said, "Huh?"

"I thought it was ridiculous and overdone," said Probolsky, who also opposed a commercial airport at El Toro. "I make money off this sort of thing, and if I were the consultant who did it, I'd be happy now, but it didn't make a darn bit of difference toward fighting the airport."

The Los Angeles overture initially sparked outrage in Orange County that the metropolis to the north would dare interfere in what many considered a local decision. Hahn said he didn't see it that way, arguing that airports are a regional responsibility and that the burdens of air travel should be spread throughout Southern California.

Irvine's City Council in June agreed to spend $1 million to fight Los Angeles in Washington, D.C., and Sacramento, where L.A.'s attempts had sprung up to get legislators to back the idea.

Much of the spending included mailers and newspaper ads to be created by Irvine's Great Park consultants, Forde & Mollrich of Newport Beach.

The Los Angeles plan failed to gain much traction over the summer, however, particularly after a key senator in Washington balked at the federal government imposing an airport on a community that didn't want one.

Airport backers won't reveal whether there are current attempts to persuade federal lawmakers.

You can never say never, said Irvine Mayor Larry Agran.

"I characterize this as a low probability of a potentially catastrophic development," he said. "My fear is that buried in an appropriations bill would be a line or two [authorizing an airport], and there it is. This is a case of what [Irvine's El Toro strategic planner] Dan Jung would call belts, suspenders and elastic -- we've got to make sure we have everything covered, and we've learned that over the years."

Some 3,738 acres will be auctioned, with the city requiring 1,336 acres to be deeded back to it for public uses. The remaining 2,402 acres will be developed for homes, commercial space, golf courses and other uses.

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