Saying she wants to respond to California’s “growth revolt,” state Sen. Marian Bergeson on Tuesday introduced six bills that she said would help the state continue to grow while minimizing traffic congestion and pollution and maximizing the supply of affordable housing.
The package, which will probably be the Legislature’s most comprehensive attempt this year to deal with the problems of growth, includes bills aimed at transportation, housing and planning issues, some from a statewide perspective and others pointed directly at Orange County.
Bergeson, a Republican from Newport Beach, said her legislation is the product of about 6 months of study, during which she met with nearly 100 advisers and held a special hearing to consider the views of the state’s business community and environmentalists.
‘Root Causes’ of Poor Planning
“The people are rebelling against the effects of poor planning,” Bergeson said. “What we’re trying to do is address the root causes of the problem.”
The legislation leaves untouched the existing authority of local governments to approve developments without consulting one another or deferring to broader needs dictated by county or regional agencies.
But the bills would adjust the current relationships among local, regional and state agencies when it comes to planning for growth and allocating money for transportation, housing, water and sewer projects.
“I don’t think it’s possible, politically or structurally, to make dramatic changes,” Bergeson said. “I think you have to gain an understanding of what you’re trying to do, and then you have to pull by consensus. I believe in local government.”
One of Bergeson’s bills would establish new priorities for transportation funding, giving preference to counties and cities that promote better use of existing highways.
The same measure would allow counties to take over building state highways if the California Transportation Commission determined that it had fallen hopelessly behind.
New Meaning for Housing Plans
That bill and another measure would also give new meaning to the housing plans that cities and counties are required to prepare. Under the legislation, the plans, many of which now do little more than gather dust on bookshelves, would be used by the state as the basis for handing out bond proceeds for building water and sewer projects and highways.
Local governments found to have unacceptable growth controls could be placed at the end of the line for state money.
That approach was tried in several legislative forms last year, none of which succeeded, in the face of heavy opposition from the slow-growth movement.
Linda Martin, a leader of Save California, a statewide slow-growth coalition, said she is skeptical about the transportation proposal, which she fears will give the state more leverage over local governments that impose growth controls.
“I have to look at most of these things with a bit of a cynical eye,” Martin said. “Most of the efforts to come out of Sacramento have been designed pretty much to thwart the local initiative, the local effort to keep growth management in the community’s hands.”
Another Bergeson measure would remove laws that now block cities and counties from sharing certain tax money. Bergeson said the bill is aimed at reducing the incentive that cities have to approve developments to maximize their tax revenue.
Perhaps the most controversial measure in the package from a local standpoint is Bergeson’s second bid in 2 years to deal with tensions between Orange County and the Southern California Assn. of Governments.
The bill would abolish SCAG, a 6-county regional planning body, as it now exists and create a new, similar agency with fewer powers.
The proposed structure would give Orange County more money and authority to devise its own transportation plans. Bergeson called Tuesday’s version of the bill a “rough draft.”
“The current system is just not working,” Bergeson said. “There hasn’t been the confidence in SCAG. This is an effort to try to let Orange County get a handle on how it can plan within the county and then fit that plan into a regional context.”
But Gil Smith, director of legislative affairs for SCAG, said the measure would fractionalize planning in Southern California just when increased regional planning is needed.
“In Southern California, you can’t identify the county lines, let alone the city lines,” he said. “The Orange County-Los Angeles area--with the tie between the major airports, the harbors, the dynamic growth--doesn’t afford the opportunity for independent county planning.”
As an example, Smith linked Orange County’s longstanding resistance to a major expansion of John Wayne Airport with the fact that 30% of the traffic at Los Angeles International Airport is created by Orange County residents and visitors.
Stan Oftelie, executive director of the Orange County Transportation Commission, said Bergeson’s approach meshes well with what the county commission has advocated.
‘A Bottoms-Up Approach’
“It’s a bottoms-up approach that will work better than the current system,” he said. “I am sure you will find that this has the support of many local government officials outside of Orange County.”
General reaction to the package Tuesday could only be described as cautious. Irvine Co. Vice President Larry Thomas said the firm, which has close ties to Bergeson, could not comment until it had seen the final version of the bills.
Sierra Club lobbyist Paula Carrell also declined to comment, except to predict that any bid to “tinker” with the system would fall short of lasting improvements.
Bruce Nestande, the former state assemblyman and county supervisor who now works for a developer and is a member of the state Transportation Commission, said the package may not be much help without an infusion of new money for building roads, sewers and other public works projects.
“What we may be doing here is nothing more than rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic,” he said.
‘This Is All Just Talk’
“As general statements, they sound nice, but the real issue is a revenue shortage. If you don’t have the money to build the infrastructure, this is all just talk, and we are avoiding the real issue.”
But Bergeson described her package as a “first-step effort.”
“I think that from an overall perspective, each one of these bills represents a major area that has to be addressed,” she said. “Obviously, there’s much more to be done. But I’m heartened by the interest in the Legislature and in local government in looking at an issue that is going to be the predominant factor in deciding our quality of life in the 21st Century.”
Times staff writer Jeffrey A. Perlman contributed to this story in Orange County.