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Cities Called Key to New O.C. Growth Plan

Times Staff Writers

The Orange County Board of Supervisors unanimously adopted a growth-management plan Tuesday, but county officials said its effectiveness depends on cities imposing similar mandates to ensure that development does not outpace needed improvements in roads and other public facilities.

And some officials raised the specter of holding back revenues from a proposed sales tax increase for transportation to any city that would not cooperate to control growth.

“It is vital that cities in the county follow suit to strengthen our work on the county level and make this document (the county’s plan) really work,” said Supervisor Harriett M. Wieder, who last year appointed the 11-member citizens’ panel that drafted the county’s growth-management strategy.

“It doesn’t take a brilliant person to figure out that countywide solutions need countywide participation,” former Supervisor Bruce Nestande, who chaired the citizens’ committee, told the board Tuesday. “We don’t have that right now.”

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Jams to Affect Other Areas

He said all cities must adopt such a plan or traffic that jams one community will back up into an adjacent area.

The growth-management plan, adopted on a 4-0 vote, divides the county’s unincorporated areas into five zones that will be closely monitored to ensure that new development does not outpace needed improvements in roads, libraries, flood control, and police and fire protection. Developers will be required to pay for needed public facilities before their commercial and residential projects are completed.

The plan comes in the wake of last June’s $2-million election battle over Measure A, the slow-growth ballot initiative rejected by voters, 56% to 44%. But the plan does not apply to the county’s 28 cities.

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The only vehicle on the political horizon for persuading cities to cooperate with the county’s growth-management strategy is the threat to deny county-controlled traffic improvement funds to the cities, county and building industry officials said.

A proposal by a committee of the League of Cities’ Orange County chapter calls for withholding revenue from a planned countywide sales tax increase from any city that failed to adopt specific growth-management policies, including strict traffic-flow standards at intersections.

The committee is led by Santa Ana Mayor Daniel H. Young and Huntington Beach City Councilman John Erskine, who also is executive director of the Orange County Building Industry Assn., a politically influential group of builders and developers who generally favor adoption of a local sales tax to fund new highways.

Nestande said the best way to get the cities to follow the county’s lead is to tie revenues from the proposed half-cent sales tax to approval of growth-management plans.

Such a move, Nestande said, would be a “test for those who really want good growth management in this county and really want to do away with the inconveniences and congestion they deplore. If they want it, they’ll support this half-cent measure.”

Nestande was referring in part to slow-growth advocates who in June, 1984, led the successful effort to defeat a 1-cent countywide sales tax increase intended to help fund transportation projects, and partly to cities that have talked about growth management but have done little about it.

As an example, Nestande cited Irvine, which has several badly congested intersections that could back traffic up into adjacent unincorporated areas if Irvine fails to adopt growth-management strategy consistent with the county’s effort.

Nestande has advocated placing a sales tax before voters as often as necessary until it passes.

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The Orange County Transportation Commission has developed a 20-year, $11.6-billion spending plan based on a state law that requires such a plan before submitting a sales tax measure to the voters.

The spending plan focuses on completion of the massive Santa Ana Freeway-widening project, new car-pool lanes on existing freeways, and the initiation of new commuter rail services between Riverside and Irvine and between Los Angeles and several stops in Orange County.

Contra Costa Plan

The spending plan and sales tax effort are being modeled after a similar package approved by Contra Costa County voters last November.

But county supervisors have not yet approved plans for a sales tax election, fearing a repeat of June, 1984, when county voters rejected the 1-cent sales tax proposal by a 2-1 margin.

The growth-management requirements proposed for cities as part of the sales tax effort will not come before the League of Cities’ general membership until April 20, and League Executive Director Bob Dunek said that some cities, such as Fullerton, have indicated objections. He said he has asked the cities to explain whatever reservations they have before the April meeting.

“I suspect that some cities are concerned about how this will affect redevelopment areas, in which they’re trying to attract new development,” Dunek said.

Both Young and Erskine were unavailable for comment Tuesday.

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Stanley T. Oftelie, executive director of the Orange County Transportation Commission, has indicated he will support the growth-management language proposed by the league’s subcommittee.

Oftelie contends that the county’s approach in dealing with cities is generally less punitive than has been the case elsewhere.

Los Angeles County, for example, recently adopted rules that deny road-improvement funds to cities that fail to synchronize traffic signals.

“In Orange County, we give the cities some money to synchronize the signals, then we see if they do other things we have asked of them as well. We think our way is better,” he said.

But Oftelie acknowledged recently that the current policy has not prevented hundreds of instances in which the cities have failed to comply with the county’s Master Plan for Arterial Highways, a document that is supposed to guide all road work.

“Enforcement of the Master Plan has been in shambles for years,” said Tom Matthews, an aide to Board of Supervisors Chairman Thomas F. Riley, who has persuaded some developers to pay for road work intended to fill gaps in major arterials in his district.

And so part of the current debate among county officials concerns who should enforce the Master Plan--Oftelie and his agency, the county Environmental Mangement Agency, which currently handles the task, or some new agency yet to be created.


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