Congressional candidate wants an online University of California and to make toll roads free

A Laguna Beach Democrat seeking to unseat Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Costa Mesa) is proposing two 2018 statewide ballot initiatives: one that would create an online state university and another that would make toll roads free.

Boyd Roberts proposes a fully accredited online university that would offer flexible scheduling options. What he calls the University of California Online would consist of free and tuition-based divisions.

Prospective students could survey content from UC, Cal State or community college professors at no cost before deciding whether to enroll because the content would be publicly accessible online.

If the person is interested in working toward a degree, he or she could enroll and then pay tuition.

All applicants would be granted admission to the online university, which would be a separate entity from the University of California system, though Roberts envisions curricula that is just as rigorous.

Students could turn in assignments and take exams at their own pace.

“We’re creating a path for anyone willing to do the work to get higher education,” Roberts, a real estate broker, said in a phone interview.

The online courses are not meant to replace established universities, said Roberts.

“The brick-and-mortar have more of a sense of community … and will be seen as superior [to an online program]," Roberts said. “The free division is a radical idea: we own the University of California. We should have access to [course information]."

Tuition would cover textbooks and materials. Out-of-state students would pay additional costs that benefit in-state students by helping fund merit-based scholarships, food pantries and student housing.

Start-up costs for the online program would come from revenue bonds, which would be repaid from tuition revenue, Roberts said in a YouTube video.

In a follow-up email, Roberts said he is not concerned about copyright issues in using the University of California name.

His referendum calls for a state constitutional amendment that would allow it.

His second initiative calls for all state tollways to become freeways after 20 years of collecting motorists’ money.

“They are not mitigating traffic,” Roberts said of the toll roads. “We still have traffic problems.”

The roads were planned as freeways, but instead were built as tollways because of a lack of state funding, the Transportation Corridor Agencies’ website said.

To finance the roads, which include Orange County’s 73, 133, 241 and 261 tollways, revenue bonds were sold as the major funding source.

Under Roberts’ plan, the state’s general fund would service any unpaid bond debt.

The 73, or San Joaquin Hills tollway, opened in 1997, and its debt was refinanced in 2014.

About $2.2 million in bonds were sold to build the San Joaquin Hills tollway. With the second refinancing, motorists may have to pay tolls until 2050 to retire the debt.

The bonds can only be repaid by future tolls and development fees, according to the TCA website.

Although TCA built the tollways and operates the collection system, the California Department of Transportation owns and maintains the roads.

The initiatives call for amendments to the California Constitution. Roberts sent a draft of the university initiative to the state attorney general’s office. Roberts has not yet submitted the tollway initiative to the attorney general’s office.

After reviewing the language, state officials will return the draft to Roberts, who must then get the minimum number of signatures — 585,407 — to qualify for the ballot, according to the Secretary of State’s website.

Rohrabacher, who took office in 1989, represents the 48th Congressional District, which includes Costa Mesa, Newport Beach, Laguna Beach and Huntington Beach.

Roberts must first place first or second in next year’s statewide primary in order to face Rohrabacher or another challenger in the general election.

bryce.alderton@latimes.com

Twitter: @AldertonBryce

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