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Irvine Marks Takeover of Base

March 28, 2004|Daniel Yi | Times Staff Writer

The mood was downright giddy at the closed El Toro Marine base Saturday as about 200 local dignitaries and south Orange County activists gathered to celebrate a moment nearly a decade in the making.

There were lemonade, strawberry cakes and music to mark Irvine's annexation of the base this year.

The annexation capped one of the fiercest political battles in county history: the fight over whether to convert El Toro into a commercial airport.

Irvine plans to transform most of the 4,700-acre base into a recreational complex with limited development called Orange County Great Park, while the U.S. Navy, which owns the base, is scheduled to auction a portion of the land to private developers this year.

"We talked about this day for a long time," said Carl Schulthess, a 65-year-old engineer from Mission Viejo, who was among the crowd inside the base's officers club.

"We said we would celebrate when they blow up the [military] runways," Schulthess said.

The runways are still intact, but "I think it's over now," he said. "When they do blow up the runway I'm going to keep a piece of it, like they did with the Berlin Wall."

Schulthess was wearing a "Yes on F" T-shirt, a reminder of one of four ballot propositions over the base's future that followed the Pentagon's 1993 announcement that the Marine Corps Air Station at El Toro would be closed.

Measure F, which Orange County voters passed in 2000, required two-thirds of the electorate to approve major county projects, including airports, seemingly canceling an earlier proposition in which voters had approved a commercial airport at the site. Pro-airport groups challenged Measure F in court and won.

In 2002, county voters approved Measure W, which zoned most of El Toro for parks and open space.

Irvine won approval to annex the base. A challenge of the decision by pro-airport groups failed in January.

"We are now standing within the city limits of Irvine," Councilman Mike Ward said proudly.

The highlight of the party, hosted by the Great Park Conservancy, was a musical number produced by Councilwoman Beth Krom.

It starred Councilwoman Christina Shea, City Manager Allison Hart and Michele Lovenduski, a senior management analyst in the public works department.

The trio, clad in elegant black dresses and pearl necklaces, sang classics with modified lyrics.

"Edelweiss" from "The Sound of Music" became "Annex me, annex me...."

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