Growth Curb Proposed for Orange County Vote

Times Staff Writer

Angrily blaming developers and politicians for Orange County's traffic jams, a citizens' group Saturday unveiled a proposed June, 1988, ballot initiative that would ban major construction projects countywide except where average vehicle speeds are at least 30 to 35 m.p.h. and stops at intersections last through only one red light.

County officials immediately branded the measure unworkable, and John Erskine, executive director of the Orange County Building Industry Assn., said it would amount to a "moratorium" or freeze on almost all large construction projects.

Initiative sponsors said they expect to begin gathering signatures for the initiative in three weeks, after a legally required 21-day period for public comment.

Supporters have 180 days in which to gather about 66,000 signatures countywide and an additional 10% of registered voters in each county city.

If it were to become law, sponsors say, the proposed initiative would be the most far-reaching of several growth-control measures adopted in communities throughout the state, including Proposition U, approved by Los Angeles voters in November, and restrictions on housing construction adopted in San Clemente last year.

The proposal would apply to commercial buildings that generate more than 130 daily trips and occupy more than 10,000 square feet and to new, single-family residences on lots of less than one-half acre.

In addition to requiring specific traffic flow performance on streets and highways, the proposed Orange County measure would set minimum police and fire crew response times that would have to be achieved before a developer could obtain a building permit, and minimum levels for flood control and availability of park facilities.

Covering All Cities

Rejecting complaints from developers and political figures that the initiative would freeze construction, send real estate prices soaring and eliminate jobs, sponsors said they will also take the politically unprecedented step of waging separate election campaigns on behalf of 27 identically worded initiatives in each of the county's 26 cities and the county's large unincorporated area to cover all bases.

Otherwise, sponsors said, growth controls on a countywide ballot legally could apply only to the unincorporated area, and individual cities could become havens for development, with spill-over traffic.

Referring to Orange County's reputation for attracting new residents and business, Costa Mesa Councilman Dave Wheeler, a lawyer who helped draft the proposed initiative, said Saturday: "We won't allow anyone to kill the goose that lays the golden egg. Not the developers, not the politicians who have refused to stop what's happening. This puts them on notice that the people are not going to accept the status quo."

The proposed measure calls for level of service "C" for road links between new developments and the nearest freeway. The rating is defined in federal planning manuals as generally meaning free-flow traffic of 30-35 m.p.h., according to sponsors of the proposal. Level "D" service would be required for intersections, meaning that motorists should be able to proceed after waiting for one light change, sponsors said.

Most Would Fail Test

In South Orange County alone, sponsors said, 19 out of 24 major intersections on streets such as El Toro Road and Moulton Parkway in Mission Viejo would flunk such a test, thus effectively banning major projects until congestion is relieved.

In North Orange County, major arteries such as Beach Boulevard would also fail to meet the initiative's requirements.

The meeting was called by Orange County Tomorrow, a two-year-old organization formed to discuss growth issues in the county. Its membership is a mix of liberals and conservatives that includes Laguna Beach Councilman Robert Gentry, the county's first openly gay public official, and San Juan Capistrano rancher Tom Rogers, a shopping center developer and former chairman of the Orange County Republican Party.

Sponsors said that they expect many legal challenges, but denied that they are hamstrung by last week's U.S. Supreme Court decision requiring compensation for landowners who can no longer develop their property because of new regulations. Initiative supporters said the court decision, which involved a Glendale church camp not permitted to rebuild after a fire, would not affect controls on undeveloped land or new uses of existing residential and commercial sites.

Shirley Grindle, co-author of Orange County's only previous initiative, a 1978 campaign reform measure, strongly urged the slow-growth advocates to go forward, saying: "The Board of Supervisors brought this on themselves. They have had years to do something about the problem and failed."

Supervisors' Viewpoints

Meanwhile, Supervisor Gaddi H. Vasquez, whose South Orange County district would be most affected by the initiative, said in an interview before Saturday's meeting that the measure's traffic standards "could not be met, even in our finest hour" on streets near freeway access points.

And Supervisor Harriett M. Wieder, chairman of the Orange County Transportation Commission, argued that the county's new Development Monitoring Program will prevent further development abuses.

For example, Wieder said, the county program recently led to an agreement between developers and county officials in which major new road construction will occur east of the Santa Ana Freeway before new housing tracts are built.

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