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Newport gives $270,000 to El Toro fight

March 29, 2001

Mathis Winkler

NEWPORT BEACH -- Preparing for what some called "a fight of our life,"

City Council members Tuesday voted to give grants to two groups that

promote an airport at El Toro.

Citizens for Jobs and the Economy will receive $150,000 and the

Airport Working Group will receive $120,000 for pro-El Toro public

relations campaigns. Under the agreement, both groups can also submit

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additional bills for reimbursement by the city.

The council has set aside almost $3.7 million for the pro-airport

effort.

While five council members supported the action, Councilman John

Heffernan sided with some residents to reject the idea. Councilman Gary

Proctor is on vacation in Australia and was not at the meeting.

Explaining his decision, Heffernan said he wholeheartedly agreed with

the need to counter a multimillion dollar effort by Irvine and other

South County cities to kill the proposal for an airport at El Toro.

But "I don't think this does it," he said, adding that Citizens for

Jobs and the Economy and the Airport Working Group are "not the two

groups that I would be giving money to now."

Referring to the failure in March 2000 to defeat Measure F, an

initiative that would require approval by two-thirds of county voters for

work on airport, jail and landfill projects, Heffernan said he didn't

think the groups had proven themselves as efficient public relations

consultants.

"These two grant recipients had poor performance at the last go

around," he said. "They couldn't do it with $2.5 million -- now we're

giving them more."

While approved by the county's voters, Measure F has since been thrown

out by a Los Angeles County Superior Court judge. Anti-El Toro groups

have appealed the decision.

Heffernan said that city officials should have looked into giving

money to other consultants before simply responding to a request for

funds by the two groups.

But other council members said the city had to stand by its longtime

allies in the airport fight.

"We came to the dance with the current players and we're going to have

to live with the partners," said Councilman Tod Ridgeway, adding that he

and his colleagues still had control over the way the remaining $3.3

million will be spent.

Addressing the city's residents sceptical of the move, Councilman

Steve Bromberg said it was time to unify.

"You don't have to like it, but this is what we're doing," he said.

"You've got to trust somebody sometimes. . . let's everybody get on board

and make this happen."

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