Lack of Political Will Over El Toro Hurts : * First Step Toward Action Is to Consider All Options

However things may change in the saga of the El Toro Marine Corps Air Station, they still seem to stay the same. There has been a lot of talk, but not much action.

The sad reality is that the county stands pitifully at a loss for even the beginning of a meaningful discussion about what will be done when the base closes. And without a plan, the county will fall farther behind in efforts to get assistance from the federal government, and in making provisions for the future.

The county cannot begin examining various plans until it agrees that it will study all the possibilities with an open mind. Obviously, it is time for it to get its act together.

When last we left this soap opera, the plan for deciding the future of the base drawn up by supervisors Gaddi H. Vasquez and Thomas F. Riley was in real trouble. Many said it would give too much power to the southern cities over the future of the base. A proposal preferred by supervisors Roger R. Stanton and William G. Steiner for overseeing the process would include all five members of the Board of Supervisors and other changes, with two seats going to Irvine, one to Lake Forest and one to an at-large member.

There probably are any number of combinations of interested parties that could work, provided that there was some reason to believe that all options will get a fair hearing. But the problem remains complicated by the great north-south divide, which is essentially an argument over whether or not there will be a commercial airport at the base.

The impasse can be reduced largely to the matter of predisposition. That is, too many local officials are approaching the process with their minds made up in advance. As long as this cart-before-the-horse methodology continues, there can be no real progress on this crucial decision.

Orange County has the bitter experience of others to learn from. To name just one example of battles over base closures around the nation, an impasse followed the closing of George Air Force Base in San Bernardino County. And the county has its own growing record of indecisiveness on El Toro: despite serious questions that were raised about projected cost savings by closing the base, the area was not able to mount an effective lobbying campaign early enough to make the case for retaining the facility.

The message throughout all this from Washington has been, in effect, that a divided community need not be taken seriously, either in the decision to close the base or in providing assistance for its future planning after the fact. That unfortunately is where things stand in Orange County.

This failure of political will has left the county adrift. The place to start on this journey of a thousand miles is with the single step of agreeing to consider all the options. Until then, every interest group and every city that has its mind made up is contributing to needless delay and more frustration.

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