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Report Faults OCTC’s Long-Range Planning

Times Urban Affairs Writer

The Orange County Transportation Commission lacks a long-range plan and clear goals, though it excels at finding more money for innovative transportation improvements without raising taxes, a study concludes.

The commission “is doing a very good job of addressing transportation problems as they now exist in the county,” but “this effort is not being done in the framework of an overall long-range plan,” the study says.

“There is a belief . . . that the transportation programs and projects of OCTC as well as those of other agencies in the county are often piecemeal and ad hoc. Our concern is that there is no . . . blueprint for the 5- to 20-year future.”

The study by Deloitt, Haskins & Sells, a national management consulting firm, was done to comply with a state law requiring periodic performance evaluations of all local transportation commissions.

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The firm was hired by OCTC, which paid $31,600 for the study. The evaluation was based partly on interviews with commission employees and more than two dozen officials in city and county agencies elsewhere.

The study, copies of which were released by OCTC on Thursday, found that “no clear organizational goals and objectives have been adopted or disseminated by OCTC.” It also says the commission’s 30-member staff often has to work overtime and is burdened by conflicting demands because “almost all tasks are perceived as being of high priority.”

Stanley T. Oftelie, the commission’s executive director, said he viewed the study as generally favorable to his agency and that most criticism contained in the report involves matters already being addressed by the commission.

The study recommends that OCTC take a stronger role in long-range planning and more closely monitor existing transit service. The study’s authors said they recognize, however, that other agencies--such as the Southern California Assn. of Governments, a six-county regional planning agency, and the Orange County Transit District--have handled planning and oversight roles under state and federal law.

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Recommendations Welcomed

Oftelie welcomed the recommendations and noted that the authors of the study went so far as to recommend that OCTC prepare its own section of the regional transportation plan, a key document that only SCAG has the legal authority to write. Orange County can comment on the Orange County section of the document but cannot change it.

“The current system doesn’t work, and we ought to do something about it,” Oftelie said. Oftelie said his commission does have general goals that refer to improving mobility but conceded that the Deloitt, Haskins report seeks more.

The recommendations support the Orange County commission in its longstanding battle with SCAG over who is best suited to prepare long-range plans for the county. County officials have previously threatened to quit SCAG or help create an alternative agency.

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Ironically, the Deloitt, Haskins report was released as SCAG, based in Los Angeles, opened its first branch office in Orange County to raise its visibility here and improve its standing with the county’s top policy makers.

SCAG Executive Director Mark Pisano said he had not seen the Deloitt, Haskins report and could only comment generally that the study seems to “miss the central point.” He said transportation policy cannot be separated from air pollution and growth management issues that “must be addressed within a regional framework.”

Regional Strategy

Pisano said SCAG is working to develop a better relationship with Orange County and its cities to increase participation in SCAG’s decision-making process. He pointed out that, without integrating various policies from many jurisdictions into a regional strategy, “we will be unable to meet air pollution goals” mandated by Congress.

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The Deloitt, Haskins study includes this observation: “In developing, presenting and supporting legislation in Sacramento, OCTC and other Orange County agencies concerned with transportation issues appear to be uncoordinated and at odds with each other.” Oftelie said his staff is meeting regularly with officials of other agencies to end such problems.

The commission has published a preliminary list of transportation projects over 20 years that would cost $19 billion to complete.

The projects are so expensive that they leave little or no money for rail or light rail programs, something the commission is re-evaluating in view of recent opinion surveys that indicate increased public support for rail transit.

The Deloitt, Haskins report states that many of OCTC’s problems may be solved when there is a resolution of the debate over the proposed merger of the commission with the Orange County Transit District and several other local transportation agencies. A committee is studying the proposed merger, which is being advocated primarily by OCTC and has been criticized by some city and transit district officials.

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