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Senate Panel to Consider Bill on Change in Control of County’s Regional Planning

Times Staff Writer

A piece of Orange County’s future will be at stake today when the state Senate Transportation Committee considers legislation concerning who should control regional planning for the county.

In many ways, the battle represents the old versus the new. To some degree, it is the north against the south. Some see it as a struggle between Los Angeles and Orange County.

At issue is whether Orange County should remain a member of the Southern California Assn. of Governments or seek independence by creating a regional planning group of its own.

The association--known as SCAG in government circles--includes representatives from Los Angeles, Riverside, San Bernardino and Ventura counties and many of the cities in those counties. It controls the money the state and federal governments allocate for planning on matters that cross civic boundaries: roads, air quality, water, population growth.

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‘There’s a Real Crisis’

But many in Orange County believe that SCAG is dominated by Los Angeles County and therefore has not been effective for Orange County. They argue that Orange County and its various cities must decide what their own future will look like before that picture can be merged into a Southern California collage.

“There’s a real crisis,” said Sen. Marian Bergeson (R-Newport Beach), who is carrying legislation to help Orange County break away from SCAG. “Land-use planning has not been done effectively. Otherwise, why would people be living in one place and working in another?

“Orange County’s lack of decision is spilling into all the other counties by forcing housing farther and farther away from the jobs,” she added. “I think this is a solution.”

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Bergeson’s bill would allow the county and its cities to make the Orange County Transportation Commission, rather than the Southern California Assn. of Governments, the county’s official regional planning agency. The commission would then receive about $1.6 million a year to coordinate the county’s future studies.

Opponents of Bergeson’s measure argue that it would be wrong to remove Orange County from Southern California’s regional planning network. They say it would leave the region looking like a puzzle with one piece missing.

‘Bill Will Divide Region’

“I think Orange County is part of the greater metropolitan area of Southern California,” said Sen. Gary Hart (D-Santa Barbara), a member of the Transportation Committee. “Large portions of Orange County are inexorably linked to other parts of the Los Angeles metro area.”

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Added Buena Park Mayor Don Griffin, president of SCAG: “This bill represents a breakdown of our problem-solving efforts in Orange County. The bill will divide our region, create a new bureaucracy and isolate Orange County from its neighbors.”

Besides Buena Park, the bill is opposed by the cities of Brea, La Palma, Stanton, Yorba Linda, Cypress, Los Alamitos and Laguna Beach, most of which are among the county’s smaller and well-established communities. But the 18 cities that support the measure represent 86% of the county’s population, according to a Bergeson aide.

The issue was discussed at length at a committee hearing two weeks ago, but Bergeson put off a vote on the matter after two senators who were expected to support the measure left the meeting.


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