Court Halts Orange County's Spending to Promote
Conversion of Military Base to Civilian Airport

DECEMBER 22, 2001

Orange County grounded its $8 million public-relations campaign for an El Toro airport Friday after a judge ordered officials to stop spending money on the program until a trial is held on allegations that it is an illegal campaign against the anti-airport Measure W.

El Toro director Gary Simon said the ruling means the end to monthly El Toro newsletters and other mailers, and any public presentations. He said he was unsure whether the county's website would remain online.

County counsel Ben De Mayo ordered staff not to pay bills from the public-relations consultants working on the county program, and instructed the consultants to immediately stop any work for the county.

The most significant effect of the ruling is likely to be muzzling the county's pro- airport voice until the March 5 election, in which voters will consider an initiative that would rezone the shuttered Marine base for use as a park.

The order halted PR spending until a trial, which lawyers for both sides said would likely come after the election.

Although the county will comply with the order from San Diego County Superior Court Judge Charles R. Hayes, Simon said he still believes the program was proper. "Any major infrastructure program has a public-information component," Simon said. "It was never a political campaign, as the opponents have painted it."

Hayes ruled that if the county wants to provide information on the airport project, it must give "equal time and space to all issues pro and con" about the airport.

The order is a confirmation "that the county was misrepresenting things and wasn't presenting a full and fair picture," said Richard Jacobs, an attorney for the anti-airport cities that filed the lawsuit.

Source: Orange County Register