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Panel Hears Planners Tell Why County’s Roads, Services Fell Behind Development

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Times Staff Writer

Orange County officials, as early as 1979, realized that building of roads and expansion of public services was not keeping pace with rapid population growth, but corrective measures could not proceed fast enough, they told a citizens growth management committee Thursday.

Key county planning officials blamed overly optimistic schedules for construction of new freeway corridors and other public services, as well as lack of funding, for current congestion problems and lack of public facilities.

Even as the growth management committee, created by the Board of Supervisors in March, met for a briefing Thursday, former Supervisor Bruce Nestande was named the new chairman of the ad hoc Advisory Committee on Public Facilities.

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Surprise Nestande Choice

In a surprise move, Board of Supervisors Chairman Harriett M. Wieder appointed Nestande to replace the former chairman, Mercury Savings & Loan chief executive Leonard Shane, who resigned unexpectedly last week, criticizing the panel for having too ambitious a workload.

Nestande, who is vice president of Costa Mesa-based Arnel Development Co., had failed last winter to forge a compromise between the Board of Supervisors and sponsors of the slow-growth initiative on the June 7 countywide ballot. Nestande is also a member of the California Transportation Commission.

In a prepared statement, Wieder said Nestande’s experience as a supervisor and as a state transportation commissioner made him “highly qualified to serve as chairman” of the citizens’ committee. But some committee members said they had reservations about the appointment.

Nestande, in a brief appearance before the committee Thursday, told its members he was happy to be joining them. But he left before two county planners were grilled by the 11-member panel, which was trying to determine what went wrong in Orange County’s land-use and traffic planning.

“Cash flows are a considerable problem,” said Tony Carstens,CQ the county’s top planning analyst.

Defended Staff Methods

“We may have all underestimated the willingness of people to drive far away from where they work to buy a home,” added Mike Ruane, an advance planning specialist in the county’s Environmental Management Agency. “We didn’t appreciate the magnitude of through-trips” (trips from adjoining counties through Orange County).

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But Carstens insisted that nothing was wrong with the procedures used by county staff to determine the need for future public facilities.

County officials also blamed the county’s growth problems on a failure to accurately project the growth of the areas around John Wayne Airport and the Irvine business complex.

Carstens and Ruane said that the county’s staff did not begin to identify shortages in public facilities and roads systematically until 1979, and then it took several years before recommendations were made about how to cope with them.

By then, some committee members said Thursday, it was already too late, and the Board of Supervisors should not have continued to approve new housing tracts.

Carstens and Ruane said moratoriums were imposed briefly in 1983 on Moulton Parkway and in 1985 in the foothill areas, but that county supervisors never considered such actions countywide.

Carstens said county planners generally believed that a moratorium would only result in nearby cities continuing to dump their traffic onto the county’s overburdened road system.

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As early as 1981 and 1982, both men said, recommendations were made, and the county has been implementing them. But the county has been playing catch-up ever since, he said.

“Not every recommendation could be followed through,” Carstens said. “. . . We can’t roll back the county’s general plan now because the courts would probably not allow it.”

Nestande’s appointment to head the panel came as committee members have been struggling to define their objectives. The committee originally was charged with reviewing a so-called safety-net growth-management plan to take effect if the slow-growth initiative failed to pass or was declared invalid by the courts. But some panel members have expressed a desire to rewrite many of the county’s land-use regulations in addition to reviewing the proposed safety-net ordinance.

Wieder Praises Nestande

Wieder, in a letter to the panel, said: “I consider Bruce to be an expert on land-use and transportation matters. As a supervisor, Bruce was instrumental in developing such innovative county programs as the Foothill Circulation Phasing Plan.”

Under the Foothill plan, developers have agreed to finance more than $235 million in road and public-service improvements before completing their new housing tracts.

“I feel confident that we will be able to produce something worthwhile in the next few weeks,” Nestande said.

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