The Taxpayers for Responsible Planning group moved one step closer Tuesday to halting plans for a commercial airport at the El Toro Marine Corps Air Station, delivering to the county registrar of voters a truckload of petitions asking voters to scrap the idea.
If certified, the 106,000 signatures would place a measure on the March ballot calling for the repeal of Measure A, which mandates the development of a commercial airport.
The group calls for the El Toro land be put to its "highest and best use," which does not rule out an airport at the site, when the base closes in 1999.
"We're not saying there should not be an airport at that site," said volunteer Betse Surace. "We're saying that it should be put to the best use and that's something they're going to have to study."
Collecting signatures was easy, volunteers said, because residents across the county identified with the group's anger over feeling abused by the political process.
"We strongly feel that the big money and special interests bought the election for Measure A," said volunteer Aaron Spevak.
Measure A passed by a slim 1.8% margin in November. Its proponents outspent the anti-airport campaign by a 5-1 ratio.
When the Board of Supervisors dismantled the El Toro Reuse Planning Authority, saying the election had given them a mandate to do so, the feeling of being railroaded was complete, some volunteers said.
The county's $1.7-billion investment loss and subsequent bankruptcy fueled the distrust of thousands of residents who suddenly viewed Measure A through skeptical eyes, said the group's co-chairman, Bill Kogerman.
"The reason this campaign transcended the whole county was the bankruptcy," Kogerman said. "The same people pushed Measure A who pushed Measure R [a failed half-cent sales tax proposal to help the county out of bankruptcy], and we just don't want to see business in Orange County done the same way anymore."
Lake Forest Mayor Richard T. Dixon, whose city is one of six suing the county to stop development of an airport, put the issue in even stronger terms. "The 'trust me' days in Orange County died with the county government's bankruptcy," Dixon said.
"Citizens in Orange County have tremendous economic muscle. We must carry the message that Orange County citizens will take no more," Dixon said.
The registrar's office has 30 days to certify the signatures, but officials expect to finish the job within two weeks.