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PROPOSED EL TORO LAND SWAP : Q&A; : Latest Twists, Next Steps in Base Conversion Battle

Political and business leaders have haggled over how to convert the El Toro Marine Corps Air Station to civilian use. An intergovernmental agency was formed to consider options, and on Nov. 8 voters will decide a ballot initiative that would require part of the base to be zoned for a commercial airport. This week, the county’s largest land developer suddenly became a major player in the process. Here are some key questions and answers.

Q. What is the latest development?

A. The Irvine Co. is discussing with the U.S. Department of the Interior the possibility of a land swap. Under a plan proposed by environmentalists, the Irvine Co. would trade 10,000 acres of wilderness near the Cleveland National Forest in northeast Orange County for the 4,700-acre military base.

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Q. If the trade can be worked out, what happens to the military base?

A. Although the Irvine Co. has declined to spell out what it would do with the land, business leaders believe that the developer would prefer a commercial airport at the site, to complement plans for its 3,600-acre industrial business park, Irvine Spectrum, located just north of the base.

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Q. Who ultimately decides what happens to the base?

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A. The U.S. Department of Defense will make the decision but prefers to have local leaders come to a consensus on a plan. If the Interior Department wants the land, and is willing to make the Irvine Co. swap, the Defense Department can convey the land to the Interior Department and the swap could be made. Some say special federal legislation would be needed for the trade to be made with a private developer; others disagree, saying precedent has been set in other swaps of this nature.

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Q. How soon could all of this happen?

A. The Department of Interior has to state its intent to take the base by Dec. 1. The base is scheduled to close by 1999, but the Marines are hoping to be out by 1997.

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Q. Will residents of Orange County have a say?

A. Regardless of what happens, a countywide referendum to decide whether an airport should be permitted on the property will still appear on the November ballot. It is unclear how the proposed land swap would affect that. Some believe the ballot initiative would have no impact on governing the use of private property. Others say that if voters decide the base should be turned into an airport, the county is bound by that vote.


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