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Citizen Petitions Put Irvine Road Fee Plan on Hold

Times Staff Writer

The signatures of more than 6,600 residents were submitted to the Irvine city clerk’s office Thursday in an attempt to force a referendum on an ordinance that requires developers to pay fees for construction of three new freeway corridors.

The fees to be raised in Irvine and nine other cities through assessments on new homes and commercial development would amount to nearly half of the estimated $940 million needed to build new freeways in the San Joaquin Hills, Foothill and Eastern transportation corridors.

However, Irvine is now legally barred from collecting the fees until the referendum issue is resolved in court or at the ballot box, City Clerk Nancy Lacey said Thursday. The signed petitions were taken to the Orange County registrar of voters, where the signatures will be verified against voter registration rolls, she said.

Lacey and William Speros, president of the Committee of Seven Thousand (COST), which circulated the petitions, said that after the signatures have been verified, the City Council must either rescind its ordinance or put the matter on the ballot. The next regular election date is June, 1986, Speros said.

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Thursday Deadline

The City Council approved the freeway fee measure on Oct. 22. Opponents had until Thursday to file referendum petitions with at least 4,536 valid signatures in order to block enforcement of the new ordinance, Speros said.

Earlier, the COST organization had submitted petitions calling for an initiative to prevent the council from adopting such an ordinance without a vote of the public.

But an Orange County Superior Court judge in August ruled in favor of three business groups--the Orange County Building Industry Assn., the Industrial League of Orange County and the Irvine Chamber of Commerce--which had sued to block the initiative. The business groups maintained that state law gives the City Council--not the public at large--the authority to decide on new road and freeway fees. COST attorneys have appealed that ruling.

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“We hope this is the last time we have to prove to the City Council that the people have a right to vote on the issue,” Speros said of the referendum.

Speros said his opposition to the freeways is based largely on anticipated traffic congestion and the costs that residents and businesses would have to pay for necessary new services. He also said he expects the referendum to be challenged in court again by business groups.

Todd Nicholson, president of the Industrial League of Orange County, said it was uncertain Thursday whether his group would challenge the referendum in court. But Nicholson said he believes court action will not cause great delays in implementation of the fees ordinance.

“We’re anticipating that the court will resolve the issue in relatively short order,” he said. “The Industrial League’s position is that the corridors are a regional project . . . part of the state system, and no one single community should have a right to block a mechanism to fund and construct relief to the transportation system.”

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The fees would be levied against developers and “are not a tax on citizens or homeowners,” he said. “This is an approach to accommodate the growth that’s inevitable. It’s not growth inducing.”


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