Redistricting Could Strip Clout of O.C. Airport Foes

TIMES STAFF WRITERS

Several proposals to change the boundary lines of Orange County's five supervisorial districts could dilute the clout of South County cities opposed to an El Toro airport.

The maps are among a dozen options for district lines to be unveiled Wednesday at a public hearing in Laguna Hills. A redistricting committee composed of representatives from each supervisorial office will make its recommendations this month to the Board of Supervisors.

Most of the proposals move political powerhouse Newport Beach out of its South County 5th District. Most also either split Irvine between two districts or move the whole city to another district with cities whose officials back a new airport.

Irvine has spent the most money fighting a plan to build a commercial airport at the closed El Toro Marine Corps Air Station, and Newport Beach has spent the most to support it.

Most of the maps unveiled so far also cluster the rest of South County's cities, now spread between two districts, into a single district.

The maps all share another aspect: They place Santa Ana, the county seat, within one district. The city, which has the highest percentage of minority residents in Orange County, currently is split among three districts.

"I think the motivation from Day One was for the pro-airport majority to reduce South County's representation to one board member," said Supervisor Todd Spitzer, one of two anti-airport supervisors on the five-member board and who is seeking an Assembly seat in March.

A challenge by South County residents to such a move could be tough, he said. Redistricting law encourages clustering "communities of interest" together and protecting the political power of minority areas.

"It's going to be very difficult to argue a constitutional violation, because a supervisor might be taken away, but [South County] is predominantly affluent and white," Spitzer said.

The controversy over the El Toro airport has shaped county politics for seven years. The airport has been supported by a bare majority of supervisors since 1994, when voters approved new airport zoning. But some issues, such as approving new leases for the airport, need approval by four supervisors.

James Campbell, who chairs the county's redistricting committee, said he submitted eight options based on population, not politics. One map splits the county along its major freeways. Another keeps every city whole within a district.

Maps Drawn to Reflect South County's Growth

The rest of his maps acknowledge an explosion of growth in South Orange County in the last 10 years, said Campbell, chief of staff to pro-airport Supervisor Chuck Smith.

Pulling Lake Forest and Mission Viejo out of the 3rd District--where they are represented by Spitzer--and plunking them with the rest of South County's 5th District makes sense, he said. The 5th District is represented by the board's other anti-airport supervisor, Tom Wilson.

"I keep saying this is not an El Toro issue," Campbell said. "There's no way to make four solid pro-[airport] districts. But others don't believe me."

Among those unhappy with Campbell's proposals is Wilson, who could find himself representing the entire southern half of the county. He said he'll oppose any map that clusters South County into one district or isolates Irvine from its southern neighbors.

"Why would you carve a city like Irvine up?" he said. "That sounds vindictive. I'm certainly not going to sit still on anything proposed by the 1st District on how 5th District and 3rd District should look."

Redrawing lines that will last for 10 years to protect the airport would be foolish, Wilson said. The fate of El Toro could be decided in the March election, he said. That's because airport foes hope to qualify a ballot measure that would change the zoning of the base to one that allows a large urban park instead of an airfield.

"You can't base a 10-year decision on a six-month issue," Wilson said.

District boundary lines are adjusted every 10 years, based on U.S. census figures. The 12 proposals will be distributed Wednesday at the county committee meeting at 3 p.m. at Laguna Hills City Hall, 25201 Paseo de Alicia, Suite 150.

Besides Campbell's maps, proposals were received from the League of United Latin American Citizens, the Asian & Pacific Islander Alliance, the League of Women Voters and Santa Ana resident Arturo Jacques.

For board Chairwoman Cynthia P. Coad, the most important factor may be politics--but not the airport kind. Coad, who faces reelection in March, is from Anaheim but has built political and donor bases in smaller northern cities that would move to other districts under many of the proposals.

"She has five full cities now, and these are cities where she has most of her political strength," said Coad's husband and office volunteer, Tom Coad.

Cynthia Coad also is unhappy with some of the maps that move a portion of Irvine into her district. Doing so would create instant political enemies for Coad, an airport supporter.

For Diane Taylor of Brea, who created the map submitted by the League of Women Voters, the main goal was righting wrongs committed during previous redistricting efforts. Another was keeping cities intact.

"I was not concerned about where these political hot buttons were," she said.

Taylor said she has attended every meeting of the redistricting committee, which is dominated by interest groups and the supervisors' aides.

"It's going to be interesting to see what moves ahead from this," she said. "The public really isn't participating in these meetings."

Besides Wednesday's meeting, the committee will discuss the proposed boundary lines June 14 and make recommendations to the Board of Supervisors on June 20. The board will hold its first public hearing on the boundaries June 26 and will select the final map July 17. An ordinance outlining the new district boundaries is scheduled to be approved Aug. 21.

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