LWV League of Women Voters of Central Orange County Area
Smart Voter
Orange County, CA March 5, 2002 Election

Pros / Cons of Measure W
The Orange County Central Park and National Preserve Initiative

See Also: Measure W main page

This nonpartisan analysis is prepared by the League of Women Voters of Central Orange County Area


Shall the Orange County General Plan be amended to (1) repeal Measure A, which designated the former El Toro Marine Corps Air Station for civilian aviation and related uses, and (2) authorize its use for specified non-aviation purposes only.


The Federal Government listed the MCAS El Toro for closure in 1993. Soon thereafter Orange County entered negotiations to take over the base. Before plans were settled, county voters passed Measure A, which amended the Orange County General Plan to designate the base as a civilian airport with compatible uses on adjacent land. Revenues from the airport would be used to support airport operations and adjacent economic development. Measure A will remain in effect until 2015, unless amended by a vote of the people or by the Board of Supervisors on recommendation of an advisory committee.

Some 2,170 acres of the site are planned for airport and related uses, 1,560 acres are planned for airport compatible uses, including a regional park and two golf courses, and 970 acres in the northeastern portion are reserved as a wildlife habitat area.

The base is still Federal property under the control of the Department of the Navy. The County has applied to become the its new owner, with the Federal Aviation Administration as its sponsor.


Measure W would amend the Orange County General Plan in respect to unincorporated land within the MCAS El Toro and repeal Measure A. It would prohibit the county's use of the land for an airport and add two new categories of "Open Space" to the General Plan. The new categories, "Nature Preserve" and "Education/ Park Compatible," would apply only to land within MCAS El Toro.

Specified uses for the unincorporated areas are:

  1. The northeastern portion would be designated as "Nature Preserve" to permanently preserve natural habitat in accordance with the Central Coastal Natural Community Conservation Plan. Only passive recreational uses would be permitted.

  2. The central and northwestern portions would be designated "Open Space Reserve," including an urban regional park. This could include various recreational and cultural uses.

  3. The southern and southwestern areas would be designated "Education/Park Compatible." This could include educational uses and supporting research and development, including infrastructure improvements, health care, child care, transportation facilities, and housing, to support educational uses. Many of the recreational and cultural uses permitted in the "Open Space Reserve" would also be permitted in the "Education/Park Compatible" area.

The measure would permit leasing of MCAS El Toro facilities, including agriculture, plant nurseries, material recovery/recycling facilities, recreation, housing and employment, in the "Open Space Reserve" and "Education/Park Compatible" areas until there is a transition to park-compatible development.

According to the County Counsel's analysis, "Open Space Reserve" land is currently restricted to open space uses by the General Plan. This measure provides that "open space compatible" uses would also be permissible, but "open space compatible" uses in the Open Space Reserve are not clearly defined. "Compatible uses" in Open Space include materials recovery/recycling facilities and low-intensity, high technology, industrial, research and development, office and educational uses and childcare facilities. It is unclear whether "open space compatible" uses are limited to only that Open Space reserve located at MCAS El Toro. If this is not the case, those "open space compatible" uses described above may potentially be allowed in other areas in the county designated as "Open Space Reserve," if such areas are not otherwise restricted in use. There are currently 120,100 acres of Open Space Reserve in unincorporated Orange County.

Measure W makes conforming amendments to the other elements of the General Plan.

Measure W provides that it is retroactive to April 30, 2001 and that it would invalidate any inconsistent activity, land use or project occurring after April 30, 2001.

The measure provides that it may be amended only by a vote of the people.


Because Measure W does not set forth specific uses, commit funding or specify a timeline for development of the MCAS El Toro property, it is difficult to estimate its effect on the County General Fund. However, the Orange County Auditor-Comptroller does offer the following evaluation:

  1. Development costs to the County are likely to be minimum because of the following:

    1. There is always intense competition for discretionary funds, so additional recreation venues would not be a priority;

    2. Development is expected to be slow-paced and could probably be financed by interim uses of existing facilities;

    3. The Navy will probably transfer the property at no cost, due to the proposed public uses, and pay the costs of environmental clean-up.

  2. On the other hand, additional expenses might be incurred under the following circumstances:

    1. If the County elects to refuse transfer of the base from the Navy, it would still be liable for approximately $11.2 million of operating costs until its interim lease terminates in 2005;

    2. If Measure W passes, the County would not receive the estimated $82 million in net General Fund revenues expected to accrue over the next 19 years from an airport at El Toro.

    3. The unknown level of environmental risks associated with the property might affect projected costs and revenues, e.g., the timeline for Navy cleanup might be extended; delays in the base transfer might require filing a new Environmental Impact Report; and the discovery of undisclosed environmental hazards during construction could cause delays affecting revenue and expense.


A YES vote means the Orange County General Plan will be amended to repeal Measure A, under which a civilian airport is planned for MCAS El Toro. An airport will be prohibited, and the land will be designated for a multi-purpose park, open space, nature reserve and other non-aviation uses.

A NO vote means there will be no change to the General Plan and the county may proceed with its plans to establish a civilian airport at MCAS El Toro.


Measure W will enhance our quality of life by designating the former El Toro Marine base for use as a nature preserve, a central park and for cultural, sports and educational uses

It will preserve prime land in the center of Orange County for universities, schools, museums, libraries, sports parks, botanical gardens, and a vast Central Park similar to San Diego's Balboa Park

This initiative does not raise taxes. Interim revenues from the existing 1,000 houses, three million square feet of commercial buildings and agricultural land will pay for maintenance and upkeep of the property, and excess interim revenues, private donations, state park bond revenues, and federal park allocations will fund park development on a pay as you go basis.

An international airport at El Toro would create more traffic, increase air pollution, reduce property values, and drive businesses away from Orange County.


Don't be misled by proponents' claims that Measure W will not require new taxes. It does more than just change zoning, and it is just the first step in Irvine's year-long plans for the Great Park.

Measure W is a scheme to gain control of El Toro. Proponents are hiding the details. Even The Irvine World News says: "...county residents deserve to hear just where the money is coming from, realistically, to build and maintain a Great Park."

Every credible expert who's examined Irvine's grandiose plans for El Toro agrees building and maintaining a park will require millions of your tax dollars! The Orange County Taxpayers Association calculates a 10% countywide property tax increase to pay for the park.

A Great Park will drain money from the County's limited budget for police, fire, and schools.

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