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Ban on Slow-Growth Initiatives Urged : Leader of Measure A Opposition Testifies Before Transit Forum

Times Urban Affairs Writer

The leader of the Orange County opposition to slow-growth measures urged state legislators meeting in Irvine on Tuesday to prohibit ballot initiatives aimed at controlling growth.

John R. Simon, the Newport Beach lawyer who headed the $2.7-million campaign that defeated Measure A, the June countywide slow-growth initiative, was one of 16 witnesses who testified before a Joint Legislative Budget Committee. The panel met in the Irvine City Council chambers to hear ideas about how to solve state transportation problems.

In addition to Simon, who argued that growth control measures make traffic worse, the panel heard former Orange County Supervisor Bruce Nestande testify that the county is facing a shortage of money for state highway projects of $3.5 billion to $8 billion over the next 5 to 10 years. That equals about 10% or more of a $35-billion statewide shortfall.

Tom Hawthorne, chairman of the state Transportation Commission, told panel members that local governments’ wish lists for road and transit projects bring the total statewide funding shortage up to $85 billion.

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Former Assemblyman Richard Robinson (D-Garden Grove)--now a managing director of the Bear Stearns & Co. investment brokerage firm--urged the panel to consider a statewide ballot measure that would raise the gasoline tax 2 cents per gallon. This would allow the state to sell $4 billion in revenue bonds that could be repaid over 25 years, Robinson said.

And James P. Reichert, general manager of the Orange County Transit District, urged the panel to consider earmarking one-eighth of 1 cent from the state sales tax for transit planning and development and seeking a 1-cent increase in the gas tax to pay for special transit guideways, such as one that OCTD is planning to build for buses and car pools in the Santa Ana Freeway median.

Simon, whose developer-funded Citizens for Traffic Solutions defeated Measure A by a vote of 56% to 44% on June 5, testified that slow-growth ballot measures only “redistribute” population to such remote areas as Temecula, in Riverside County, from which people drive longer distances to jobs in Orange County.

His comments came at a time when slow growth and traffic control measures are on the Nov. 8 ballot in several Southern California cities, including Costa Mesa, Huntington Beach, Newport Beach, San Juan Capistrano, Riverside and San Diego.

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Until 1976, when the California Supreme Court upheld a growth control measure adopted in Livermore, growth controls were forbidden as unconstitutional, Simon said.

Now “you have a new court,” Simon said, referring to the new conservative majority among the justices.

Simon urged the legislators to draft a bill that would reverse the high court’s 1976 decision.

Simon also suggested that appellate courts be empowered to rule on the constitutionality of slow-growth initiatives before elections. Simon said Superior Court judges are too reluctant for political reasons to deprive citizens of the chance to vote, thus causing emotional, costly and wasteful political campaigns.

Simon also suggested that state laws require environmental impact statements for initiatives, so voters can be informed more easily about a particular ballot measure’s effects on traffic or other environmental problems.

State Sen. Quentin L. Kopp (I-San Francisco) urged fellow committee members to actively consider Simon’s proposals. He immediately won support from state Sen. William Campbell (R-Hacienda Heights), and Assemblyman Robert C. Frazee (R-Carlsbad), both of whom represent parts of Orange County. Campbell, chairman of the Joint Legislative Committee, said he would ask the legislative counsel’s office for a legal analysis of Simon’s suggestions.

Simon revealed during the committee hearing that a post-election poll commissioned by his organization showed that 45% of the people who voted for Measure A in the June 5 county election did so mostly because of anti-growth sentiment, not in the belief that they would be solving traffic problems. Of those surveyed, 23% said they supported the measure to improve traffic. The remainder was split among varied reasons, including 4% who said they wanted to send a message to politicians.

Former Irvine City Councilman Ray Catalano, an urban planner who supported Measure A, was unable to give his scheduled testimony but said later that managing growth well is essential to solving transportation problems. He said voters will not approve a tax increase that the public believes will be used to accommodate more growth and increased traffic, rather than to reduce current congestion.

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