In Irvine, the Big Traffic Jam Was Line to Sign Slow-Growth Petition

Times Staff Writer

It was more like a piece of cake than a rush to the finish.

On the last weekend before Tuesday’s slow-growth petition deadline, the two Irvine slow-growth proponents collecting signatures at Vons market on Barranca Parkway were sanguine, unstressed, almost basking in the warmth of what they saw as certain victory.

People actually came to them , wanting to know where they had to sign. Some even waited patiently as fellow shoppers grabbed the pen before they could. But it was no problem. They have become used to waiting--behind rows of illuminated brake lights on Orange County freeways.

That was the point that one of those behind the clipboard--third-term Irvine mayor and developers’ nemesis Larry Agran--was trying to make.


But on Saturday, Agran wasn’t Mr. Mayor. He was just folks--"Hi! I’m Larry"--dressed for the drive in a plaid flannel shirt, jeans and running shoes.

Agran’s co-pilot was Irvin Alber, now a scientist at McDonnell Douglas in Huntington Beach and an 18-year Irvine resident. Alber said that he had to change jobs because of the traffic, that after eight years of commuting to Van Nuys he was on the edge.

“It was just such a hassle,” he said.

But maybe slow-growth insiders will remember Alber better as the author of the failed SIG Alert Group, as in “Sensible Ideas for Growth.”

That’s what Alber wanted to call Orange County’s slow-growth movement. But he said his choice was rejected as too gimmicky, with the deciding votes instead cast for the more staid Citizens’ Sensible Growth Traffic Control Initiative.

“I thought the SIG Alert was a little catchier,” Alber said. “We were calling an alert, saying, ‘Hey, things are getting out of hand.’ ”

Saturday, however, the only things that seemed out of hand were the pens passed from one fed-up Orange County resident to another as they signed the slow-growth petitions.

“Here comes a good prospect,” said Agran as he spotted Jean Hunter, her three children in tow, heading for the supermarket entrance. “Let’s see how she comes out.”


Agran need never have doubted.

“Yeah, I like that,” said Hunter, an Irvine kindergarten teacher, the moment Agran thrust his petition toward her with a plea to support an end to runaway development.

“I think we live in an area that is just becoming more and more crowded,” she said, “and we have to preserve our quality of life.”

Agran, one of the top lieutenants of the slow-growth movement, said volunteers countywide have already collected more than the 65,000 signatures needed to qualify for a June ballot initiative.


“But to be absolutely sure that we’ll have the required number of valid signatures, we need about 80,000,” he said. “Unless we worked through the weekend, we wouldn’t feel comfortable.”

Agran’s Goal

But in Irvine at least, Agran said that “a very large percentage” of the people approached by volunteers had already signed the petitions.

“My own personal goal is 25 to 30 an hour, if I don’t take a break,” he said. “But some people gather (petitions) faster than I do.”


That, Agran said, is because he tends to schmooze a lot.

“This really is a nice exercise in democracy,” he said.

It was also a great opportunity for sizing up the populace, for testing theories, such as women with children are usually soft touches, and teen-age boys jangling car keys are bad bets.

“Women sign more than men,” Agran said. “They are more approachable, less likely to be brusque. I find that married people, couples together, are more inclined to sign than individuals.”


Parents Good Bets

The mayor also suggested that “parents with children in hand” are good bets because “they like to demonstrate good citizenship.”

For his part, Alber said that about half of those people approached by signature gatherers will have already signed, that another 25% will say they are too busy and that the remaining 25% will sign. Only one out of 15, he said, will say they are opposed to the slow-growth initiative.

“They’ll say things like, ‘Oh, you people want to stop growth, pull up the gate behind you,’ that kind of argument,” Alber said. “But what I think is that if we are all in the same life raft, we should make sure that there are other life rafts available so that we don’t sink the one that we are on.”


But there wasn’t a chance to test all of Alber’s observations Saturday. A few people did indeed say they were too busy; many said they had already signed, but nobody let it be known that they were against the slow-growth initiative.

Even though most people signing the petition really had no idea what the Citizens’ Sensible Growth Traffic Control Initiative actually says, the words “slow growth” were all they needed to hear.

“It’s out of control,” was how Jeffrey Suderith, an Irvine physician, summed up the collective experience of congested roadways and declining open space.