El Toro, Round 3
Irvine’s Great Park Initiative sounds like a dream come true. Crafted by the best advertising minds, it has popular appeal but is actually a fraud and deceit on Orange County voters.
The Orange County Central Park and Nature Preserve Initiative, Measure W, on the ballot March 5, lauds the benefits of a 7-square-mile park (the former El Toro Marine Corps Air Station) that includes a “multipurpose park, open space, nature preserve, universities and schools, cultural facilities, and other interim uses
This is a false promise. What Measure W does is change the zoning of the base from that of an airport to that of a park. But it does that and much more.
Contrary to any accepted meaning of the words, “open space” as defined in this initiative in Section Four, 3.e., includes landfills, extensive industrial development and office buildings. Also, “Certain property ... is committed ... to remain as open space ... but other property, due to market pressures to serve a growing county population, may ultimately be developed in other ways.”
The same section of Measure W actually allows development on up to half of the base, with building heights up to 100 feet and 130 employees per acre.
Measure W is appealing when it promises no new taxes. According to the initiative’s summary, the buildings on the base will provide sufficient revenue to pay for the park. In fact, these buildings are old, up to 50 years, and need upgrading.
Today, with Orange County leasing the base from the Navy and renting out some facilities, it is costing taxpayers $5 million a year just to maintain the grounds. One study of the costs of the park, commissioned by the Airport Working Group and Citizens for Jobs and Economy, estimated the average tax increase per household to be $300 per year.
Even more suspect is a sentence in the initiative that supports seeking tax revenue to build the park. In Section Four, 5.c.2., it says that the county should maximize “use of available funding sources, including federal, state, and local, as well as support necessary increases in such sources.”
Are these funds not from taxes?
The most damning section of the initiative has received scant attention. Its scope is not limited to the El Toro property. Section Four, 3.h., reads, “The twelve major land use policies apply to ... ‘all geographic areas of unincorporated portion of the County.’”
What does this mean? It means that all unincorporated land in the county is subject to the provisions of this initiative. This includes Bolsa Chica and other areas, allowing the weak standards defined in Measure W to apply to all unincorporated land in the county. It doesn’t rezone these properties, but it means that all provisions of the initiative will apply to them.
While purporting to offer the citizens of Orange County a pristine, open-space park, in reality, this deceptive initiative undermines the protections we already have.
It is a developer’s dream come true. Eliminating the El Toro airport zoning allows all 14,400 acres of buffer zone to be developed in addition to the 4,700 acres of the base itself.
While there is no guarantee of a park, Measure W changes the ground rules for the county’s undeveloped unincorporated areas. It is an environmentalist’s and a taxpayer’s nightmare.
Shirley A. Conger is a board member of the Airport Working Group and writes from Corona del Mar.