Handing a legal victory to airport foes, a judge Thursday refused to remove Measure F, the initiative designed to stop a commercial airport at the closed El Toro Marine base, from the March 7 primary ballot.
“This is very good news for us,” said Jeffrey C. Metzger, chairman of Citizens for Safe and Healthy Communities, the petition drive organizer. “This was another ill-fated attempt to prevent the initiative from being approved by the voters.”
Orange County Superior Court Judge Richard M. Aronson rejected arguments by attorneys for airport supporters that the measure was unconstitutional, saying they “should have been raised earlier,” allowing the court more time to weigh the matter and hear evidence.
But more time would have caused severe problems for the county registrar of voters, also named as a defendant, who must meet a deadline Monday to print ballots and election materials, the judge said.
“I simply don’t know enough to say one way or the other . . . but if I had a gun put to my head I would have to deny the writ,” Aronson said of the lawsuit, filed Dec. 23.
The ruling came two weeks after the state Supreme Court pulled Proposition 24 from the March ballot because it violates a state constitutional rule that limits initiatives to a single subject.
Proposition 24 would have slashed state legislators’ pay and transferred reapportionment responsibility from the Legislature to the state high court.
The judge said the high court’s ruling “had emboldened” pro-airport attorneys to try to exclude Measure F from the countywide ballot under the same legal theory, although he said that ruling did not establish any new standards.
In addition, the Supreme Court had six weeks to weigh the matter.
“I only had two days,” Aronson said.
If passed, Measure F will require a two-thirds approval by voters to build or expand any jails, hazardous-waste landfills and airport projects.
Barbara Lichman, an attorney for pro-airport supporters, said Measure F was unconstitutional because it is overly broad and its organizers had picked airports, landfills and jails, which are not a single subject, for “political appeal.”
“This is an approval of a transfer of power from the [county] Board of Supervisors to the voters,” she said.
But Metzger’s attorney, James Harrison, said the fact that a ballot measure has wide appeal “does not invalidate it.”
Thomas C. Edwards, an attorney and former Newport Beach mayor who favors an airport, argued the initiative was a “wolf in sheep’s clothing.” The real issue for the measure, he said, “is how to stop an airport.”
The judge was reluctant to dismiss pro-airport arguments outright. It would have been better, he said, to bring these issues sooner and allow time to consider evidence on environmental and health impacts.
During the hearing, attorneys argued the pros and cons of landfills, airports and jails and whether they had any relationship. But due to the limitation of the hearing, no evidence was presented.
An elated Leonard Kranser, who edits a Web site against the airport, called the decision the “third strike” against pro-airport forces. An earlier lawsuit to derail the initiative failed, as did an appeal, he said.
“We see all of this as an anti-democracy attempt to try and keep the people from voting on Measure F. It reinforces our conviction that the initiative is constitutional,” he said.