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Slow-Growthers Called ‘Selfish’ at Legislators’ Session

Times Staff Writer

Slow-growth leaders were scolded in the state Legislature on Tuesday for what one lawmaker called a “selfish” attitude that fails to recognize the virtues of development.

Sen. Marian Bergeson (R-Newport Beach), sponsor of a special hearing held to find solutions to problems caused by California’s rapid development, said she is trying to build a coalition of environmentalist, business and government leaders to close political divisions opened by recent battles over growth-limiting measures on local ballots.

But there was no indication from the daylong session that lawmakers are ready or willing to join hands with slow-growth leaders to limit development in the state’s urban areas.

Bergeson said she believes that the slow-growth drive, despite a series of recent setbacks, is far from dead. But her colleagues nonetheless were unusually blunt in criticizing a movement that only a year ago had many elected officials fearing for their political futures.

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Assemblyman Robert C. Frazee, a Republican who represents south Orange County, upbraided a Sierra Club activist whose words painted a gloomy picture of commuters stuck in traffic on Orange County freeways and watching helplessly as hillsides give way to housing subdivisions.

Frazee pointed out that most of those caught in rush-hour jams are driving alone in expensive cars from their comfortable suburban homes to good jobs in the cities. Growth limits would prevent more people from enjoying that same sort of affluence, Frazee argued.

“Things are not all that bad for those folks,” Frazee said. “I guess the ones we should be concerned about are the ones who don’t have that car to get on the highway and don’t have that nice house in the suburbs. I think what a lot of our (slow-growth) movement is heading toward is not elevating those people on the lower end of the scale.

“I have a sense of wanting to do something to provide for and accommodate the growth, but to deny people that right I have had--and 2 million other people have had--to deny other people for our own selfish interest, causes me great concern.”

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Assemblyman Gil Ferguson (R-Newport Beach), a former spokesman for the Irvine Co. and CEEED, a coalition of builders and construction labor unions, said efforts to control the effects of growth have driven up the cost of housing in Orange County. He specified developer fees to pay for schools, parks, sewers and roads as adding significantly to housing costs.

He noted that a large part of the state’s population growth is now coming not from immigrants but from births. “Do you have some suggestions for birth control or retroactive birth control?” Ferguson asked Linda Martin, co-chairwoman of Citizens for Limited Growth, a coalition of local growth-control groups.

Martin, a resident of San Diego for 6 years, was also chided by Sen. William A. Craven (R-Oceanside) for promoting growth limits despite being “hardly what you would call one of the founding fathers” of that city.

Between the personal exchanges, the legislators heard suggestions for improving regional planning so that traffic congestion, air pollution and school crowding might be minimized.

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Without improved planning, citizens will be even more likely to resort to the ballot box to control growth, warned Bill Havert, director of the Sierra Club’s Riverside-San Bernardino County chapter.

Act of Desperation

“The initiatives are an act of desperation,” Havert said. “People look and say, ‘What is the level at which we can have an impact?’ People don’t see the means to have an impact on the regional level.

“So you’ve seen a trend for initiatives to try to address problems at a countywide level because that’s the largest arena in which people feel they can act. If we had more effective regional planning, maybe some of the transportation problems and others that drive people to the initiative would not be so intense.”

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Figures supplied by the legislators showed that California voters passed 52% of growth-control measures put before them in 1988. That was down from 76% in 1986 and 70% in 1987.

In Orange County this year, growth-control measures passed in Costa Mesa, San Clemente and San Juan Capistrano but failed in Huntington Beach and Seal Beach. A sweeping measure proposed for unincorporated Orange County territory was defeated in June.

Other measures failed in Riverside and San Diego counties.

Despite those defeats, Bergeson said she believes that it would be a “foolish political mistake” to conclude that the growth revolt is over.

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“The lesson I draw from last month’s elections is that our constituents are not happy with land-use initiatives, nor are they happy with local officials’ decisions about development projects,” Bergeson said.


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