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New Panel to Guide Transit, Growth, Air Issues Backed

Times Urban Affairs Writer

The Orange County League of Cities has endorsed the formation of a 15-member board to oversee a powerful new regional association that would coordinate local transportation, air quality, housing and growth-management planning.

On Friday, officials hailed it as a compromise that, among other things, could end a simmering city-county feud over the proposed merger of the county’s multiple transportation agencies.

Under the plan approved Thursday, a subgroup of five regional association board members would oversee the Orange County Transit District. The loser in such an arrangement would be the Orange County Transportation Commission, which would cease to exist.

While proponents say a streamlined transportation agency would be better able to unravel the traffic snarls faced by county commuters, League of Cities President Phillip R. Schwartze said that Thursday’s action would not have any immediate impact on the public.

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“This is all politics--it has nothing to do with how anything functions,” Schwartze said.

The compromise, proposed by Schwartze and Supervisor Roger R. Stanton, must still win the approval of an ad hoc consolidation committee scheduled to meet on Monday. The measure then will go to the Board of Supervisors.

Despite the remaining hurdles, Schwartze and Stanton were optimistic Friday that a city-county deadlock had been broken.

“I’m just as pleased as anything,” Schwartze said. “This seems to be a workable program for everybody.”

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But not everyone was happy about the compromise.

Board of Supervisors Chairman Thomas F. Riley--who heads the County Transportation Commission--was miffed that neither Schwartze, a constituent who lives in Riley’s supervisorial district, nor Stanton had consulted him.

“This comes as news to me,” Riley said. “I certainly think they should have talked to me about this beforehand.”

Stanton chairs the transit district board of directors but is also a member of the County Transportation Commission. He acknowledged Friday that he had not consulted other supervisors, although Bob Dunek, executive director of the League of Cities, said that Supervisor Gaddi H. Vasquez had participated in discussions that led to the compromise.

Sources close to those discussions said Friday that Stanton had been trying to find a way to weaken the authority of OCTD Executive Director James P. Reichert, with whom he has tangled repeatedly in recent years. But Stanton was told that too many city officials were more upset with Stanley T. Oftelie, the Transportation Commission’s executive director, the sources added.

Stanton denied that Reichert would emerge unscathed in the compromise approved by the League of Cities on Thursday. The OCTD would be, in effect, answerable to the new regional planning association that would be created, Stanton said, adding: “Right now, they’re not that answerable to anybody.”

Oftelie said Friday that he supports the compromise pending negotiations over how transportation planning funds will be administered. “It makes very good sense,” he said.

State Sen. Marian Bergeson (R-Newport Beach) already has introduced legislation in Sacramento that would create a regional planning board, but the specific details of board membership were being left open while city and county officials negotiated a compromise.

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Bergeson was unavailable for comment Friday but said recently that she would probably support a membership formula similar to the one approved by the League of Cities on Thursday.


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