Road, Transit Sales Tax for O.C. Is Closer to Ballot

Times Urban Affairs Writer

A measure that would link a countywide, half-cent sales tax for highways and transit projects to growth controls moved a step closer to the ballot Monday as a new, 20-year, $11.6-billion master plan for transportation improvements was unveiled by the Orange County Transportation Commission.

The plan focuses on completion of the massive Santa Ana Freeway widening project, adding new car-pool lanes on other freeways, converting some busy boulevards into streamlined "super streets" and operating new commuter train service.

But as a condition of receiving any proceeds from passage of the proposed sales tax, the commission said, "every city and the county of Orange must adopt a comprehensive growth-management plan to link traffic relief and carefully planned future development."

The $11.6-billion price tag also includes construction of the three planned tollways in east and south Orange County, although their cost is supposed to be covered by developer fees and anticipated toll revenue.

Although the exact wording of a ballot measure has not yet been drafted, the 20-year plan released by the commission at its Monday meeting in Santa Ana is required by state law as a condition for calling a sales tax election.

The Transportation Commission scheduled a public hearing on the draft plan for 9 a.m. on May 8 in the County Hall of Administration in Santa Ana. The last day to qualify the plan for the Nov. 7, 1989, countywide ballot is Aug. 8.

The plan contains more transit than a similar, $19.5-billion, 20-year inventory or "wish list" of projects that was circulated by the commission last year. Besides adding 2 additional trains supplementing Amtrak service between Los Angeles and stops in Orange County, the plan includes four morning inbound and four evening outbound commuter trains from Riverside to Irvine, two each stopping in Fullerton and two each on a shorter route through Orange.

Fewer Projects

It contains fewer individual street improvement projects, with county officials hoping to restore them later if and when other revenue-raising measures, such as parking fees or employee taxes, are adopted.

"There will be those who will say they have a right given from some source to drive in their own vehicle at 55 m.p.h.," said Dana W. Reed, a Costa Mesa attorney who serves as the public-at-large representative on the Transportation Commission. "But that's simply not in Orange County's future. . . . In 20 years at least, if not now, you'll have to car-pool, take a bus or take a train, or move to Fresno."

The draft plan was written by the commission staff after a survey of 600 Orange County residents, a series of public workshops and consultations with a citizens' committee. It's based on $8.5 billion in revenues expected from gas taxes, city funds, developer fees, bus fares and income from the new tollways to be built in east and south Orange County. The remaining $3.1 billion would come from a half-cent countywide sales tax.

County officials are skittish about scheduling a sales tax election to fund such improvements, partly because a 1-cent measure they had strongly supported suffered a crushing defeat in 1984, and opposition is expected again from some slow-growth advocates or members of some business groups such as the Motor Car Dealers Assn.

"So far we haven't lost anyone," said commission Executive Director Stanley T. Oftelie, referring to dozens of meetings held so far with potential critics.

Oftelie said that even environmental groups, including Laguna Greenbelt Inc., have not bolted, even though some officials expected them to.

However, Elizabeth Brown, president of Laguna Greenbelt, was lukewarm at best in her remarks Monday to the Transportation Commission. Brown said that while her group and others want to continue working with the commission, she she hopes the 20-year plan would be part of an election package that would include a bond measure to finance more than $225 million worth of open-space purchases. She reminded commission members that in part, the commission is modeling its sales tax effort on a successful campaign waged in Contra Costa County last November that was tied to an open-space purchase plan.

Commission Chairman Thomas F. Riley urged Brown to meet with Oftelie and the commission staff about open space, but Oftelie said after the session that he feels "uncomfortable" because he and the commission have no expertise on the issue.

Sharon Heath of the Laguna Canyon Conservancy said Monday, "It's complete insanity not to include purchase of open space" in the county's plan. The Conservancy has tried to raise money to buy the Irvine Co.'s land holdings in Laguna Canyon in order to prevent further development there. But company Chairman Donald Bren has said the land--targeted for a large residential development known as Laguna Laurel--is not for sale.

Last week, in anticipation of Monday's release of the 20-year plan, Building Industry Assn. Executive Director John Erskine said he was pleased with the effort, including the element requiring cities to adopt strict growth management policies. Erskine is also a Huntington Beach councilman and former mayor.

"There are those in our industry will say no to everything," Erskine said, "but most of our membership will support this effort because we know that unmanaged growth would be disastrous for Orange County.

PLAN HIGHLIGHTS The $11.6-billion, 20-year plan unveiled Monday by the Orange County Transportation Commission would be funded both by existing revenues and a proposed half-cent countywide sales tax. Orange County is the only urban county in the state without such a tax to help fund transportation improvements. The plan would include:

$550 million for finishing the widening of the Santa Ana Freeway.

$400 million to add 2 car-pool lanes to portions of the Riverside Freeway.

$590 million for signal coordination, so-called "super street" conversions, elimination of bottlenecks.

$450 million, on a matching basis, for planning and construction of local rail extensions that would link cities to the main rail system.

$310 million for road maintenance throughout the county and its cities.

$200 million to add 2 general-purpose lanes to the Costa Mesa Freeway between the Riverside Freeway and the Santa Ana Freeway, with improvements to interchanges.

$170 million for new train service between Riverside and Irvine and Los Angeles and Orange County stops.

$160 million for freeway widening land purchases to prevent cost escalation and purchase of a portion of the Los Angeles to San Diego railroad corridor south from Fullerton to the San Diego County line.

$80 million for 2 new car-pool lanes on the Santa Ana Freeway between Irvine and San Clemente.

$55 million to reconstruct bypass and feeder lanes along the Santa Ana Freeway at the junction of the San Diego Freeway (the "El Toro Y").

$50 million for a direct freeway-to-freeway transitway connector for buses, vans and car-pools at the interchange of the Costa Mesa and San Diego freeways.

$40 million for 2 car-pool lanes on the Orange Freeway between the Santa Ana Freeway and Lambert Road.

Freeways

Projected costs: $6.9

Projected revenues: $3.1

Streets

Projected costs: $4.5

Projected revenues: $2.8

Transit

Projected costs: $5.2

Projected revenues: $2.6

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