2 Cities OK Forming of Agency on El Toro : Closure: Mission Viejo and Laguna Beach tentatively agree to join a body that would have cities competing with county in planning the Marine base’s future.


The Mission Viejo and Laguna Beach city councils tentatively agreed Monday to join an intergovernmental agency that would put South County cities in competition with the county over controlling plans for the future of the El Toro Marine Corps Air Station.

Mission Viejo and Laguna Beach were first to act among eight South County cities due this week to consider the formation of a joint-powers authority. The agency would rival a planning task force being created by members of the Board of Supervisors, who maintain that the county alone has land-use authority and should thus have sole authority to approve plans for converting the base to civilian use.

By approving the “concept” of an “El Toro Reuse Agency,” which would include all 31 Orange County cities--and county government, should it choose to participate--the South County cities renewed their commitment to seek at least shared authority over decisions concerning redevelopment of the 4,700-acre base. The Marines are due to vacate the base sometime before 1999.

“I hope that the county is not seeing this as a threat to their ultimate authority but as a chance to share authority,” Mission Viejo Mayor Robert D. Breton said during a one-hour special meeting that largely covered technical questions. The four members of the council present Monday voted unanimously for the plan; Councilman Joseph D. Lowe was absent.


Laguna Beach council members also called on the county to join the process.

“We would like the county to participate,” Councilman Wayne L. Peterson said before the 4-0 vote. Councilwoman Ann Christoph was absent.

Councilwoman Kathleen Blackburn added: “We are now moving forward, and we want the county to be there at the table with us.”

Laguna Beach and Mission Viejo are part of the six-city coalition sponsoring the proposed agency. Their allies--Irvine, Laguna Hills, Laguna Niguel and Lake Forest--are scheduled to consider the intergovernmental agency question during council meetings tonight.


Two other South County cities, Dana Point and San Juan Capistrano, have not previously participated in the coalition but their officials will also meet tonight to discuss joining the agency.

Until now, the county has refused to share final decision-making authority, since all but 300 acres of the site is situated in an unincorporated area.

However, Supervisor Thomas F. Riley has directed the county staff to resume negotiations with the South County group and to seek a consensus that can win approval of the U.S. Department of Defense, which will ultimately decide who will be given control of the land.

Apparently set aside for now is a plan privately advanced last week by the county, seemingly at the behest of the Irvine Co., that would force an immediate decision on whether a commercial airport should be developed at El Toro--even before other options are considered. South County cities oppose an airport.


Officials close to the discussions said the informal county proposal resulted from a meeting brokered late last week by the Irvine Co. that included Riley and Irvine city officials. The Irvine Co. owns large tracts of land around the base.

But after hearing a brief description of the plan from Irvine officials, other South County council members said they would wait for the county to make a “formal” offer to the group as a whole.

The county “proposed it to one mayor and one council member at a meeting which included the Irvine Co.,” Laguna Hills Councilman Randal J. Bressette said of the offer. “That’s not an appropriate forum to issue a counterproposal.”

Under the plan being reviewed by the South County cities, annual membership fees to the agency would be based on proximity to the base. The county, Irvine and Lake Forest would each pay $10,000 per year; Laguna Beach, Laguna Hills, Laguna Niguel, Mission Viejo and Tustin would pay $7,000; and Costa Mesa, Dana Point, Newport Beach, Orange, San Juan Capistrano and Santa Ana would contribute $5,000. The remaining 18 Orange County cities would each pay $2,000.


In addition, base redevelopment proposals would be considered under a three-tiered bureaucracy.

At the lower level, an estimated 90 participants--residents, business leaders, homeowner association representatives and politicians--would serve on nine advisory committees to consider land uses such as high technology industries, commercial businesses, housing, education, aviation, arts and culture, transportation, parks and recreation. The draft proposals would then go to a board composed of officials of the 31 cities and the county. The final decision would be made by a nine-member executive committee made up of officials from the county, Irvine, Laguna Hills, Laguna Niguel, Lake Forest and Mission Viejo. The top-level committee would also include Tustin and representatives from Anaheim and Newport Beach--two cities that support a commercial airport at El Toro.

Mission Viejo Councilwoman Susan Withrow said the agreement “is not a bottom-line” offer. She conceded that South County cities have more voting influence, “but only because our cities are more impacted. Overall, I feel we have come up with an equitable plan. Every city has a major role in this process.”

Members of the six-city coalition are circulating draft copies of their plan to other cities and county supervisors, and formal approval of the plan will occur once other cities endorse the proposal, South County leaders said.


Correspondents Frank Messina, Leslie Earnest and Shelby Grad contributed to this report.