Supervisors Give a Nod to Frequent Flier Funds

TIMES STAFF WRITER

With a public relations tab now running at $8 million, the pro-airport majority on the Orange County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday approved paying for postage for more than two dozen mailers to residents.

The action, approved 3 to 2, authorizes Gary Simon, director of the El Toro planning agency, to use $2 million of those funds for postage for about 30 mailers over a yearlong period.

Some of the mailers will go countywide, while others will be targeted to specific areas. They will include color newsletters for the pro-airport Orange County Regional Airport Authority and newsletters and bulletins for open houses sponsored by the Local Redevelopment Authority.

The $8-million budget, appropriated this year, comes from non-aviation revenue at John Wayne Airport and not from taxpayer funds, said Chuck Smith, a pro-airport supervisor who urged approval of the postage money.

But anti-airport Supervisor Tom Wilson criticized the authorization as a "total waste of money," and called it part of an illegal campaign because it goes beyond the informational threshold and politically promotes an airport.

"The way I see it, if it walks like a campaign, looks like a campaign and talks like a campaign, it is a campaign," Wilson said.

Anti-airport forces in South County are trying to collect 71,206 valid signatures for an anti-airport measure to go on the March ballot. The initiative would replace airport zoning, approved by voters in 1994, with a designation for parkland and a nature preserve. A specific plan for the former Marine base, called the Great Park, was developed by Irvine and is supported by a coalition of South County cities.

But Smith and the two other pro-airport supervisors have said they want to give residents information coming from the county to counter "misinformation" by anti-airport sources like the El Toro Reuse Planning Authority and Irvine.

Between June 2000 and May 2001, ETRPA and Irvine distributed 22 mailers.

According to the county's proposal, Amies Communication in Irvine--which recently won a $3-million contract to work on airport public relations--will mail six color newsletters during the year to 965,000 households; each mailing would be on behalf of the planning agency. The postage allocation also covers 12 pieces to an additional 40,000 targeted residents for a total of $840,000.

Additionally, the public relations firm Townsend, Raimundo, Besler & Usher will produce and distribute 12 color mailers on behalf of the regional airport authority to 475,000 households. No plan has been finalized with Townsend, but according to estimates, the authority plans to spend at least $942,000 on the mailings, county officials said.

In March, the board approved giving $5 million to the pro-airport Orange County Regional Airport Authority for a public-information campaign on El Toro.

Supervisor Todd Spitzer questioned why there were targeted areas, including some of the airport authority's former member cities--such as Villa Park, which recently voted to leave the authority.

"Didn't Villa Park recently come up during a discussion because they recently left OCRAA yet they will receive mailers?" Spitzer said.

"Yes, Villa Park will be included," Simon said. "Because there they think planes would be flying over their city and it's just not true."

The county has spent little on airport public relations in the last 15 months. After the passage of anti-airport initiative Measure F last year, county officials were barred from spending money to promote the proposed airport. Measure F has since been overturned.

MORE INSIDE

Meetings: Supervisors vote to end their monthly night sessions. B11

Charter: The board puts off adding an initiative to the ballot. B11

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