Accusing the Southern California Assn. of Governments of unfairly dictating traffic and housing policies to local communities, Orange County officials lobbied the state Senate Transportation Committee on Monday for legislation that would reduce SCAG’s authority.
SCAG is a six-county regional planning agency authorized by state and federal agencies to coordinate transportation, housing and environmental decision-making.
Described as a new “bottoms-up” approach that would end SCAG’s alleged “top-down” pronouncements to local governments, the county proposal would allow each of SCAG’s six counties--Orange, Los Angeles, Riverside, San Bernardino, Ventura and Imperial--to coordinate urban planning among their cities. SCAG, or a similar agency, would then try to resolve inconsistencies among county plans.
Under the Orange County proposal, it and other member counties would receive millions of dollars in urban planning money now controlled by SCAG’s Los Angeles-based staff.
The debate over the regional agency’s proper role was sparked by disputed population and housing projections that SCAG prepared for each city in its region. Those projections have been criticized by local officials as “too high.”
SCAG’s proposals for dramatic increases in ride-sharing, working at home and other changes in residents’ life styles to reduce traffic and air pollution have also drawn criticism.
Last spring, state Sen. Marian Bergeson (R-Newport Beach) sponsored legislation that would allow the counties to do more local planning at SCAG’s expense, but the bill never made it to the Senate floor. Bergeson, who attended Monday’s committee meeting, is considering reviving the legislation.
The key issue, Bergeson said Monday, is whether financial inducements, such as diversion of more planning funds to cities and counties, will persuade those local governments to better coordinate traffic and land-use decisions.
The Senate committee held a half-day hearing in the Irvine City Council chambers.
Orange County’s proposal, developed by the county’s new City-County Coordinating Committee, was outlined by Clarice A. Blamer, a member of the Orange County Transportation Commission and a Brea councilwoman.
“In Southern California, the regional transportation planning process has failed,” Blamer told the senators. “This failure is evident in the enormous growth, infrastructure and traffic problems that confront us at the local, regional and even statewide levels. It is evident, too, in the views and attitudes of our constituents.”
Blamer cited a recent poll in which more than two-thirds of respondents “felt that our traffic problems stem from a lack of effective planning.”
Blamer said the coordination panel set up by the county’s city councils and the Board of Supervisors had developed the “bottoms-up” proposal, in which a regional agency such as SCAG would establish regional goals to guide counties in coordinating internal decision-making. The regional agency would also resolve conflicts among counties.
But SCAG officials, including agency executive director Mark Pisano, defend the way SCAG operates, noting that what SCAG does is the result of state and federal rules. Pisano said SCAG recognizes that there are problems in gaining enough local-level participation in its planning process.
He and other officials said that SCAG is working to create sub-regions, or clusters of urban centers with common problems, that would bring regional planning more to the local level, with greater citizen participation.
Riverside County officials Monday testified against Orange County’s efforts to change SCAG’s procedures, saying that many of Riverside’s problems, such as freeway congestion, are caused at least partly by Orange County.
Ironically, Orange County officials cited their warm relationship with their Riverside counterparts as evidence that cooperation can be achieved without SCAG.