ORANGE COUNTY PERSPECTIVE : Caution in El Toro Planning
The Orange County Board of Supervisors has the chance tonight to show that it is listening to all its constituents and to move with proper caution in deciding what happens to the El Toro Marine Corps Air Station after the Marines leave.
One thing the county should not do is foreclose options for the use of the 4,700 acres. One thing it should do is ensure that the opinions of Irvine and Lake Forest are heard in the planning process.
The supervisors unwisely decided last November to dissolve the nine-member El Toro Reuse Planning Agency, which was studying how to use the acreage when the Defense Department hands it over to the county, which is expected to be around 1999. That panel consisted of the supervisors, three members from Irvine and one from Lake Forest, the two cities closest to the base.
The supervisors acted after county voters narrowly approved Measure A, which called for a commercial airport on part of the property and establishment of a 13-member advisory committee. The advisory panel would have lesser roles for Irvine and Lake Forest, both of which strongly oppose a commercial airport at the base.
The Defense Department has muddied the waters with conflicting accounts of whether it would consider the 13-member group representative of county opinion, which it rightly insists be taken into account when redeveloping bases. The Defense Department should not regard Measure A as a mandate to start immediate planning for a commercial airport at El Toro.
Supervisor Marian Bergeson sensibly has proposed that the supervisors keep the El Toro Reuse Planning Agency in existence for two more months. This would allow more discussion of a range of uses for the base, including proposals for a prison, affordable housing or an airport.
Extending the agency’s term would also allow time for more talks aimed at a compromise to reconcile Measure A with the wishes of Irvine and Lake Forest. The planners of the reuse must do all they can to avoid lawsuits over the redevelopment, which would serve no one and could delay future use of 4,700 valuable acres.