Legislation that would create a new “superagency,” accountable to the public for county transportation problems and solutions, was introduced Friday in Sacramento.
The bill by state Sen. Marian Bergeson (R-Newport Beach) would consolidate the county’s transit and transportation agencies into the Orange County Transportation Authority. Its board of directors would consist of 3 county supervisors, 7 city representatives, a member of the public and a non-voting gubernatorial appointee.
A committee of two representatives each from the Orange County Transportation Commission, the Orange County Transit District and the county’s League of Cities has been studying the proposed merger. At least two committee members, one from the OCTD and one who sits on both the OCTD board of directors and the OCTC, strongly opposed any move that would end the independence of the OCTD, which handles 35 million bus passenger boardings per year.
Asked Introduction of Bill
But with pressure mounting to establish a single agency to solve transportation problems, the committee 2 weeks ago asked Bergeson to introduce legislation necessary to bring about a merger.
The state Senate is expected to begin hearings on the measure, SB 838, within 30 days.
Bergeson said it may take a year or more to gain passage of her bill, which will be carried in the Assembly by Gil Ferguson (R-Newport Beach).
“Although the entire framework of the bill is still being negotiated, we felt it was important to introduce this measure in order to demonstrate our commitment to the effort toward consolidation,” Bergeson said at a Friday news conference in Santa Ana called to announce the legislation. “Throughout my Senate district, constituents are begging for something to be done about our transportation problems.”
She added: “It is my belief that consolidation, leading to greater coordination, will result in both cost-savings and better efficiency in determining the future of transportation in Orange County. . . . Another significant benefit is the prospect of Orange County speaking with one voice on our transportation needs.”
In the past, the OCTC and OCTD have occasionally clashed on transportation issues in Sacramento. Public opinion surveys sponsored by the OCTC also show that the public is confused by the county’s “alphabet soup” regarding transportation-related agencies.
Supervisor Roger Stanton, who is both chairman of the OCTD board of directors and a member of the OCTC, attended the news conference in support of the bill. However, he emphasized that he was doing so as an individual because the transit district board is bitterly divided and has not taken a position on the proposed merger.
Without identifying them by name, Stanton criticized OCTD board members Richard B. Edgar and William Farris, who have protested that a new agency and board would not be suited to managing the day-to-day operations of a bus company. Stanton said the five-member board has two members strongly opposed to consolidation and three who are “quite logical” and “open-minded.”
Stanton charged that the county transit district duplicates some services offered by other agencies, especially in connection with transit service for the handicapped and seniors.
He said some members of agency boards and staff people would strongly oppose a merger because they would lose their jobs. For example, there are now three executive directors whose jobs would be combined into one position. “Who’s going to take charge?” Stanton asked.
Stanton said he is willing to give up one of his agency posts but said others are not. While Stanton and Edgar sit on both OCTC and OCTD boards, others sit only on one board and their fate in a merger is uncertain.
Farris and Edgar could not be reached for comment Friday, but Edgar recently accused merger supporters of acting too quickly.
The county’s Transportation Corridor Agencies, which are supervising construction of three tollways in southern Orange County, are not expected to join the proposed countywide transportation agency until after the tollways are built because of problems involving the sale of revenue bonds to help financing.
Nevertheless, tollway officials recently charged that Stanley T. Oftelie, executive director of the Orange County Transportation Commission, is promoting criticism of the tollway agency as part of a bid to become the county’s transportation “czar.”
There is no guarantee that he would be selected to head the agency that Bergeson’s legislation would create, Oftelie said.
He added that current recommendations by a consulting firm call for any new consolidated agency to have several operating divisions, each with its own chief similar to the head of a county department.