The battle lines have been drawn for what promises to be a hotly contested, multimillion-dollar fight over a plan to pay for $11.6 billion worth of transportation improvements with a half-cent increase in the county sales tax.
Officials of the county registrar of voters office will decide today which of two position papers opposed to the plan will be placed on the Nov. 7 ballot.
The plan, known as Measure M, seeks to increase the sales tax from 6% to 6.5%, raising a $3.1-billion down payment on a far-reaching, $11.6-billion plan to speed traffic with wider freeways, more car-pool lanes and streamlined streets, plus commuter rail service. The tax increase would cost the average county consumer about $50 to $75 per year.
Supporters expect to spend at least $1 million to push the plan, while critics hope to raise $100,000 to defeat it.
Those involved in such ballot-initiative campaigns believe that the supporting and opposing statements posed to voters in the polls and the names that go with the statements can have a considerable effect on voters.
The filing deadline for such positions was Friday. One opposition position paper, calling the measure an "attack on your pocketbooks" that would only help those owning land near proposed highways, was offered by Ted Gwartney of Anaheim, who identified himself as chairman of the Committee to Reduce Consumer Taxes.
The other opposition statement came from a group made up primarily of individuals who have been identified with the county slow-growth movement: Brian J. Rice, mayor of San Clemente; Sandra L. Genis, member of the Costa Mesa City Council; Norman Z. Eckenrode, mayor pro tem of Placentia; Robert F. Dinsen, mayor pro tem of Garden Grove, and Russell Burkett of the Orange County Taxfighters Inc.
The group called Measure M the latest "taxscam" from special interest groups and said it would mean far greater debts and more taxes later for county residents, as well as "more dangerous, expensive diamond lanes and busways" and "planned gridlock."
The group also called the plan "a downpayment on disaster."
Signing the statement that is to appear in support of Measure M were Tom Rogers, a slow-growth activist who helped defeat a sales-tax transportation plan five years ago; Clarice A. Blamer, head of a citizens' panel set up by the Orange County Transportation Commission; Leon A. Bosch of the Homeowners Assn. of Leisure World; Thomas R. Testman of the Orange County Taxpayers Assn., and Lucien D. Truhill, president of the Orange County Chamber of Commerce.
Rogers and Burkett, neighbors and friends in San Juan Capistrano, have been closely linked on the slow-growth issue but find themselves on opposite sides on Measure M.
"It is a strange position to be in," Burkett said, "but it's an honest difference of opinion over what this plan would mean for the county. . . . I understand that Tom worked hard to try and modify the plan and that after the transportation conceded some of his points, he felt obligated to back it."
Rogers agreed that, while he is now at odds with such old allies as Burkett, "there's no reason to end our friendship over this."
Rogers said he was swayed to support the plan by the inclusion of a stipulation that would make transportation money to cities partly dependent on their adoption of growth-management plans.
"It's a good plan," Rogers said. "Slow-growth advocates are in an absolutely no-lose situation. We got what we wanted beyond our wildest dreams."