Three of the candidates vying to succeed retiring Supervisor Harriett M. Wieder described the possible conversion of El Toro Marine Corps Air Station to a commercial airport as Orange County's greatest opportunity to attract new business and create jobs.
The base conversion issue--addressed Wednesday by Huntington Beach Councilman Jim Silva, Raymond Thomas Littrell and Haydee V. Tillotson--has been particularly controversial in Orange County during the past year. North County residents have favored a commercial airport, while some South County residents have opposed it because of concerns that a new airport would bring increased traffic and noise to their neighborhoods.
"No longer should Orange County be a little brother to Los Angeles County," Silva said, adding that local businesses now must truck much of their air cargo to and from Los Angles International Airport because of the limited capacity at John Wayne Airport.
Silva, Littrell and Tillotson--three of the five candidates vying for Wieder's seat--appeared Wednesday at a Costa Mesa forum sponsored by the city's Rotary Club. All three agreed that such an airport, and the business development that would surround it, has the potential to create thousands of jobs when the 4,700-acre base closes by 1999.
In the past three years, Silva said, Orange County has lost 190,000 jobs because of a sagging state economy and "over-regulation" by local and state government. Silva said he collected his statistics from state government.
Referring to permit requirements and fees for proposed development in area cities and in unincorporated areas of the county , Silva said: "We're regulating business right out of the county."
Littrell, a former Garden Grove councilman, said he saw no logic in converting the military air station to anything but a commercial airport.
"El Toro has been planned for an airport for the past 50 years," Littrell said, referring to the base's military function. "Putting a commercial airport at El Toro would take the pressure off John Wayne.
Of the three candidates, Tillotson was the most reserved in her support, saying she would favor such a development provided that concerns about air safety, increased vehicle traffic and other issues were resolved.
"This is the greatest opportunity Orange County has to create jobs," Tillotson, a Huntington Beach businesswoman, said of future development at El Toro. "I do not know of all the problems yet, but there is a need in this county to use that land to bring economic development."
All five District 2 candidates--including Huntington Beach Councilwoman Linda Moulton-Patterson and Huntington Beach businessman John Thomas, who were not present Wednesday--are expected to square off at 7:30 tonight at the Costa Mesa City Council chamber.