State High Court Agrees to Hear Freeway Issue
In a victory for an Irvine citizens group, the state Supreme Court on Thursday stepped into an Orange County freeway dispute involving an attempt by city residents to force a public vote on the financing of three freeway projects already approved by local governments.
Five of the court’s seven members voted to grant a hearing to determine whether the Committee of Seven Thousand--the Irvine group trying to block financing for the proposed freeways--can legally put its initiative on the city ballot.
Earlier, two lower courts had blocked the initiative from going on a local ballot.
“You made my night,” committee chairman Bill Speros said Thursday, when informed of the decision. “We are really thrilled. We have been challenged by all the big people . . . and we are very pleased to have our day in court. It has been a long struggle for all of us.”
The central issue in the Irvine freeway debate has been growth--and the perception by many homeowners that the new freeways would bring unwanted new development to south Orange County. The citizens’ initiative would require all financing measures for new roads and freeways to be put before the voters.
In December the state 4th District Court of Appeal sided with a broad coalition of land development and business organizations by ruling that the committee’s initiative could not go on the city ballot because “the decision to impose development fees to finance new freeways rests with the City Council and not with the voters themselves.”
Speros’ group had lost a similar battle at the Superior Court level.
The proposed freeways are the so-called Eastern, Foothill and San Joaquin Hills corridors, with a total cost estimated at $1 billion. After county voters in 1984 rejected a proposed local sales tax increase to fund freeway construction, the state Legislature passed a law allowing local government officials to impose fees on new county development to finance freeway and bridge construction.
The fee program was approved by the county Board of Supervisors, Irvine--which is located near the heart of all three planned thoroughfares--and nine other cities. With massive development planned over the next several decades, Irvine would generate about a fourth of all fees raised under the program, and its participation in the program has been considered crucial.
After the Irvine City Council approved the fees last October, the Committee of Seven Thousand collected more than 10,000 signatures for an initiative aimed at blocking the city’s participation.
The Supreme Court will schedule a hearing at a later date to decide the issue. Voting in favor of a hearing on the issue were Chief Justice Rose Elizabeth Bird, and Justices Stanley Mosk, Allen Broussard, Cruz Reynoso and Joseph R. Grodin.