City Contests Legality of Airport Initiative

Lake Forest on Monday requested a court hearing on the legality of a November ballot measure asking voters to designate the El Toro Marine Corps Air Station as a future commercial airport.

An Orange County Superior Court judge agreed to the city’s request that the matter should be decided before Aug. 29, the last day that Donald Tanney, the county registrar of voters, can delete the initiative before the ballot goes to print.

Dana W. Reed, treasurer of the group that gathered more than 114,000 signatures to qualify the pro-airport initiative, said he was distressed about having such a short time to respond to the nine-page petition and several hundred pages of supporting documents, which argue that the initiative violates state planning codes.

“It is a political tactic by the city of Lake Forest,” Reed said in an interview. “I am in awe of their chutzpah. At the height of the campaign, when we should be communicating with the voters, we will have to be thrashing this out in the courtroom.”


In court Monday, Reed observed that his pro-airport group, called the Committee for 21,000 Jobs, had yet to find a lawyer to represent it.

He stressed that the outcome of the opposition’s petition will be critical.

“If the petition is granted, everything the committee has done will have been for naught,” Reed told Judge Donald E. Smallwood.

Smallwood responded that although the committee might argue that Lake Forest unfairly delayed its challenge, the city was entitled to a hearing.


However, Smallwood said that because he once did legal work for George Argyros, the developer who co-chairs the pro-airport committee, he hesitated to preside over the hearing unless he gets a waiver from Argyros.

He said if he receives a go-ahead by this morning from Argyros, who is vacationing in Greece, he will schedule the hearing for Aug. 25.

In its petition, the city argues that the designation of the Marine base as an airport in the general plan would require other planning considerations that the initiative does not address, such as the impact of an airport on traffic and noise levels.

“The city’s position is that it favors having the base plan developed by the county and the city of Irvine and Lake Forest through the El Toro Reuse Planning Authority,” rather than a voter initiative, Lake Forest City Atty. Jerry Patterson said Monday.


Patterson denied that the city purposely delayed its legal challenge to the initiative.

He said that his office started to research the legality of the initiative June 22, “the day after the board (of supervisors) put it on the ballot.”