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Commentaries : Two Transportation Views : Bill Would Put Transit, Highway Reins in Single Hand

<i> Gilbert W. Ferguson is the state assemblyman representing the 70th District</i>

Scene: A driver sits in that linear “parking lot” we call the 405. The driver looks to the right and left, past the sea of cars, and all he sees are bean fields. He wonders why those marvelous south county roads like Valencia, Rockfield, Muirlands and Moulton Parkway haven’t been extended all the way to mid-county, so he and everyone else in the slow moving parking lot would have some options on an easier way to work.

Most of us have little trouble imagining such a scene. It probably wouldn’t be easy to say “why” such roads haven’t been extended, or others built, but we can guess.

Surveys consistently show that the public lacks confidence in the capacity of the government to do anything about the transportation mess.

With over a dozen transportation “agencies” in or affecting Orange County, plus 29 local governments controlling transit decisions for 28 cities and the unincorporated county area, like 29 independent Balkan republics, there are sure a lot of fingers to point and a lot of places to point them.

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They’re all “responsible,” but no one is in charge. Little wonder, then, why most of us haven’t been willing to pay higher taxes in the hope of “somehow” improving our commute.

After serving on the Assembly Transportation Committee for 5 years now, I’ve seen how local officials in many areas of our state have come to recognize and accommodate the regional nature of transportation needs and decisions.

In Orange County, too, there is a new recognition that no amount of money from any source will result in the kind of solutions we all want so desperately, unless we clearly fix responsibility and authority for our transportation problem and its solution.

Sen. Marian Bergeson and I have authored and recently introduced state legislation to do just that.

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We did so at the urging of a special panel of local officials which represented all the separate transportation decision-making bodies in Orange County. With remarkably little dissension, they did something which has few precedents in government anywhere: They agreed that the transit agencies they represent must, literally, be dissolved, so that a single, countywide body with fixed responsibility, authority and accountability can be formed.

The Bergeson-Ferguson bill will create a single “Orange County Transportation Authority” and dissolve all three existing countywide transportation agencies: the Orange County Transportation Commission, Orange County Transit District, and Consolidated Transit Services Agency.

Presently, each of these agencies has a separate board of directors and administration. The first two broadly overlap and duplicate such functions as project planning, public information and legislative advocacy, while the second and third bodies duplicate bus operations.

Under our bill, all would be dissolved and their functions unified under a single administration and a single board of directors. Some particularly controversial issues remain under discussion. The most critical of these still evolving features of the bill is the composition of the board of directors of the authority.

So far, city representatives have insisted that seven council members or mayors be included on the board, along with three county supervisors and a nonelected “public member.” This would give “cities” a clear majority. Representatives of seven cities would then make decisions affecting the entire county.

Such a result would be wrong. This body should represent and be accountable to all the residents of Orange County.

I and others feel strongly that all five county supervisors must be included on the board. After all, they represent every man, woman and child in the county. We have proposed that an equal number of city representatives serve, plus a public member.

The issue of representation and authority is at the heart of solving our transportation problems. This legislation will help, but only if and to the extent that it is sincerely undertaken and embraced by all the various local jurisdictions involved.

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Unfortunately, in the past we have seen significant resistance from the councils of several cities that have frequently been unwilling to cooperate on regional solutions.

As a conservative, I certainly want to preserve local control over local issues. At the same time, we recognize that transportation is the lifeblood of our area’s economic prosperity and basic to the quality life style we desire. Like smog, it’s as much a regional as it is a local problem. And the solutions for both are regional.

The Bergeson-Ferguson legislation, as currently written, does not empower the new regional authority to override local resistance. Rather, it is hoped that, through working with the new, unified body, a new spirit of cooperation will be engendered.

We may find that those hopes are not fulfilled and that the needs of Orange County continue to be stymied by one or two cities obstructing the completion of major transportation improvements.

If that indeed comes to pass, I believe we will have to take a serious look at broadening the powers of the authority, so that the public interest can no longer be thwarted.


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