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Irvine Vote Sought on Freeway Fund Plan : Petitioners Say Use of City Fees Would Subvert Defeat of Prop. A

Times Staff Writer

Charging that a plan through which Irvine, several other cities and Orange County would partially finance new freeways through city development fees is merely an attempt to subvert last year’s defeat of Proposition A, Irvine residents delivered a petition Monday asking that the issue be placed on a citywide ballot.

Only 15% of Irvine’s 45,360 registered voters are needed to force a special election next November. However, 10,150 residents--or about 22% of the electorate--signed the petition, which will be submitted to the City Council after a 30-day validation period ends.

The financing plan, which has yet to be ratified by the 10 cities that have been negotiating with the county, would require the municipalities to pay half of the estimated $940 million needed to build the proposed San Joaquin Hills, Eastern and Foothill freeways, said Stan Oftelie, executive director of the Orange County Transportation Commission.

The San Joaquin Hills Freeway would link Newport Beach with Mission Viejo, and the Foothill Freeway would connect Tustin with San Clemente. The Eastern Freeway would run from the Santa Ana Freeway at Myford Road, at the Irvine-Tustin boundary, to the Riverside Freeway at Gypsum Canyon Road.

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Under the proposed joint-powers plan, the cities would pay their half by assessing special fees on new development. Residential developers, Oftelie said, would pay about $1,000 for each new single-family detached dwelling built, while commercial developers would pay about $2 per square foot of new construction.

Development-heavy cities, such as Irvine, would pay a much higher percentage of the cost of building the new roadways, Oftelie said. County estimates issued last October place Irvine’s contribution to the total at about 30%.

“Most of the people we had talked to about signing this petition said they thought they had voted this down when they defeated Proposition A,” said James Johnson, president of the Committee of Seven Thousand, an Irvine group opposed to the freeway-building plan.

Proposition A, a controversial ballot measure which sought to finance new freeway construction through imposing an extra cent of sales tax in Orange County, was defeated last June with 70.3% of the vote against it.

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“They were surprised to see that this indirect tax was coming back to them in a different form,” Johnson said. “They were happy to sign the petition.”

Larry Agran, an Irvine City Council member who helped draft the petition, said the financing plan would “impose a vast new economic burden” on Irvine residents and is “truly a tax without the consent of those who have to pay the bill.”

‘Simply Not Affordable’

Agran, who is also opposed to any new freeway system on environmental grounds, said the county plan would cost Irvine $150 million in new taxes and fees and is “simply not affordable.”

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By placing the issue on the ballot, Agran said, Irvine voters could decide for themselves if they approve of paying for the proposed freeways. Agran believes such a vote would spell defeat for the plan, which he called “an end run” by county transportation planners. “They failed with Proposition A,” he said. “Now they’re trying the same thing, but without the voters say-so on it.”

Although the Irvine City Council in February approved a “memorandum of understanding” with the Orange County Transportation Commission detailing the financing plan, an ordinance would still have to be drafted and approved by the council before Irvine could begin collecting the fees, according to City Clerk Nancy Lacey.

Two Elections Needed

Moreover, if the validation process reveals that at least 15% of Irvine’s registered voters signed the petition, two elections would be required to determine whether Irvine would participate in the plan. The first would be to approve a law requiring a vote to approve the plan, while the second would actually decide the issue.

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However, the City Council could preclude the initial election altogether by enacting an ordinance requiring a vote before the city could participate in any financing plan, Lacey said. If the council takes no action, the measure would automatically go on the November ballot.

Oftelie said that if Irvine pulled out of the joint-powers scheme it would be a major blow to financing the freeways but would not spell the end of plans to relieve traffic congestion in Orange County.

The primary impact on those plans, he said, would be on how the task is accomplished. If there isn’t enough money to build freeways, projects to widen existing streets, such as the Beach Boulevard “super street” project, may be undertaken.


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