Construction Industry Defended : Builders Unveil Ad Campaign

Times Urban Affairs Writer

The poster shows a construction worker looking through an opening between the wooden studs of an unfinished house.

"You've been framed," the words say. "Some people are blaming us for traffic problems in Orange County. The truth is our industry is contributing millions of dollars towards new road construction."

It was one of three posters unveiled Tuesday as part of a $210,000 advertising campaign by the Building Industry Assn. of Orange County aimed at its own members, as well as construction workers, architects and engineers. The purpose is to persuade those being targeted that they are helping to solve the county's massive traffic problems and are not to blame for them.

While Building Industry Assn. officials denied that the campaign is an effort to defeat the countywide slow-growth initiative, they said they hope it will help industry employees defend growth and development from attack, whatever the source.

The ads developed for the campaign do not specifically mention the proposed slow-growth measure, which would link future development to traffic concerns, open space and levels of police, fire and flood-control protection.

"We build solutions, not problems," say the 10,000 posters that the BIA began circulating last week to major development firms. "Don't let anybody tell you different."

But San Juan Capistrano rancher Tom Rogers, a key sponsor of the proposed initiative, said the campaign is "merely a charade."

"Of course I don't believe them," Rogers said. "The BIA's representatives attended 14 meetings with us and never once came up with any solution or proposal for dealing with the traffic problem in Orange County."

In one of the BIA posters unveiled Tuesday, a woman model poses in a hard hat next to a construction worker. They appear to be reviewing blueprints at a construction site. "Good Guys Wear Hard Hats," the caption states.

In a third poster, a car with only three wheels is shown on a patch of rocky soil. "It can't move without you," the text says. "The wheels of our economy won't turn if one is missing. Since the 1982 recession, one-fourth of all the new jobs in Orange County are the direct result of the recovery in the building industry."

Firms throughout the county are being solicited by mail for contributions to help recover the money the BIA is spending on the campaign and to expand the program, dubbed "Building Industry Outreach." A video, also part of the campaign, will be released Monday, officials said.

So far, according to BIA Executive Director John Erskine, such firms as the Santa Margarita Co., the Irvine Co. and Fieldstone Co. have paid from $500 to $10,000 each.

Both Erskine and BIA President Gordon Tippell denied that the primary motive of the campaign is the defeat of the slow-growth initiative.

Said Tippell: "It's not a challenge to the slow-growth initiative. Quite frankly, we've found that many of our own members--and their employees--don't know what the building industry is doing to help solve the traffic problem in Orange County. . . . We've found that when we tell them how much money we're putting into new streets and highways, they are astounded. . . . Of course, we hope that as a spinoff, these folks will be able to go home and tell people that development is not a nasty word."

BIA officials visited newspapers in Orange County on Tuesday in a bid to explain the project. They said the campaign is aimed at about 110,000 construction industry officials and employees. They also said the effort is unrelated to a bid by the Building Industry Assn. of Southern California, a parent group, to raise money for possible lawsuits against slow-growth measures in Orange County and elsewhere in the region.

Produced by the Santa Monica-based First Tuesday firm, which managed Los Angeles City Councilwoman Ruth Galanter's successful campaign last year, the Orange County BIA project includes brochures that describe how the building industry is already paying about $1 billion for new roads and freeways in Orange County through developer fees.

Said initiative sponsor Rogers: "Their campaign will never change their public image. . . . They can't take a lump of coal and change it into something it's not."

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