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UCI, County Settle Dispute Over Access Road

Times Staff Writer

The County Board of Supervisors and UCI Medical Center apparently have settled a dispute over a road that both sides consider essential to their plans for more than $200 million in expanded facilities in the city of Orange, county officials said Thursday.

As part of the proposed settlement, the University of California Board of Regents has agreed not to sue Orange County in an attempt to block a proposed expansion of the Theo Lacy Branch Jail in Orange.

The supervisors last December voted to sue UCI over a parking structure it was building at the medical center in Orange, saying the structure would add unnecessary traffic and congestion to the access road that the county believed it owned. In a move county officials construed as retaliatory, the regents in January authorized a lawsuit against the county to halt the Theo Lacy expansion, a key element in the county’s master plan to ease severe overcrowding in county jails. That suit was never filed.

“It was two behemoths on a collision course over traffic and congestion,” said Dan Woolridge, an aide to Supervisor Don R. Roth, who initiated the county action against UCI. “The squabble over the access road mushroomed into something much bigger.”

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In the end, the county agreed that UCI had some legal claim to the road and therefore has rights to use the private, four-lane road that divides university and county facilities east of the City Shopping Center in an area known as the Manchester Complex. Initially, county officials argued that UCI had begun construction of a new 700-vehicle parking structure next to the access road without consulting the county. They filed a lawsuit requiring UCI to assess the level of traffic the structure would generate.

But the suit will be dropped if the Board of Supervisors approves the settlement at its next meeting Tuesday. The agreement also renames the road Dawn Way and calls for the two sides to share the cost of maintaining the road. Furthermore, it sets parking limits for the county and UCI and allows for widening of the road if needed in the future.

County officials intend to build a pair of multistory parking structures for more than 2,350 cars, while UCI has indicated it may build an additional high-rise parking garage for 2,200 cars.

“It does look like we’ve reached a settlement,” said Leon Schwartz, vice chancellor of administration and business services at UCI. “Both sides have come out of this with honor. The process enabled both of us to better understand each other’s plans for that area.”

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Roth said he was relieved that the flap did not go further in the courts.

“Anytime you can settle a dispute without spending taxpayers’ money in court, it’s a good day,” Roth said.

County’s Plans

In addition to the jail expansion at Theo Lacy, the county is planning a new juvenile court facility for the Manchester Complex, which is bordered by the Garden Grove Freeway on the south, the Santa Ana River on the west and Chapman Avenue on the north. County facilities already at the complex include the Juvenile Justice Center and the Orangewood Children’s Home.

Despite his relief over the settlement, Roth expressed concern about the continuing challenge from the city of Orange over the Theo Lacy expansion. City officials say the expansion will cause traffic problems and jeopardize public safety. The project is intended to increase the capacity of Theo Lacy Branch Jail from 622 beds to 1,326.

Roth said that he and Sheriff Brad Gates have met several times recently with Orange officials but that no agreement has been reached.

“The longer we draw this out, the greater risk to the general public,” Roth warned. “We have inmates who are spending only enough time in jail to get their pictures and fingerprints taken. We need to expand that facility.”


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