City Council members tonight are expected to take the first step in planning for the development of 440 acres of city land inside El Toro Marine Corps Air Station, a move that could threaten plans to convert the military base into a commercial airport.
The council will begin discussions on amending the city's General Plan and changing some zoning boundaries that could allow for development in the area.
Irvine and neighboring South County cities oppose plans for a commercial airport at the Marine base, as called for by Measure A, when it closes by 1999.
Projects ranging from a sports complex to a college campus have been proposed for the property, which lies near the end of El Toro's main runway.
Irvine Mayor Michael Ward likes to joke about building a 40-story senior health-care center near the runway's end.
But he stops short of saying the council would choose a particular development in order to block a commercial airport.
"It's an excellent idea," Ward said, "but whether or not we could actually do that, I don't know."
Councilman Greg Smith said the county might try to take over planning for the 440-acre parcel.
"It is important for us to maintain control over our own property," Smith said.
"If there's a use of that property that might not be compatible with an airport, then so be it."
But a preemptive development plan would only make it more difficult to resolve differences between two competing base-closure planning groups--the county's El Toro Airport Citizens Advisory Commission and the El Toro Reuse Planning Authority, according to Irvine resident Tom Wall, a member of the Citizens Advisory Commission.
"There appears to be a number of attempts by cities to thwart the planning process by preempting the eventual use of this land, should it become an airport," Wall said.
"It just seems inappropriate that the parties can't come together and resolve their differences."