Measure M Opponents Assail 'Official' Letter

TIMES URBAN AFFAIRS WRITER

Proponents of Measure M, the half-cent sales tax proposal on Tuesday's Orange County ballot, have sent a letter to voters designed to look like an official communication from the state Transportation Commission, which is legally barred from spending public funds on a political campaign.

The mailing contains a reproduction of a letter from Commission Chairman Joseph A. Duffel claiming that Measure M, proposed to ease transportation problems in the county, is needed because $70 million in proceeds from the countywide tax measure would go for projects that would "guarantee that Orange County bridges, roads and overpasses meet the highest earthquake standards." Duffel, of Contra Costa County, could not be reached for comment.

The letter, which appears to be printed on commission stationery, carries a disclaimer that it was "not printed or mailed at public expense."

Bill Ward, a board member of Drivers for Highway Safety, a citizens' group that opposes Measure M primarily because of plans for using some of the proceeds for car-pool lanes, said Friday he was "outraged" by the letter's resemblance to official state stationery. "The state can't tell us how to vote," he said.

However, Measure M campaign chairman Bruce Nestande, a former county supervisor who currently sits on the California Transportation Commission, denied any wrongdoing.

"No state money was involved in preparing it or sending it," Nestande said. "What's more, the state commission formally endorsed Measure M at its meeting in Costa Mesa" last month.

Among other mailings received by voters Friday was a letter from former baseball commissioner and Newport Beach resident Peter Ueberroth, endorsing Measure M.

"I'm definitely against tax increases," Ueberroth wrote, "but sometimes there comes a point when you have to start thinking about what's best for the future. . . . Thank you for allowing me this small intrusion."

The anti-Measure M camp also sent out mailers to some North County voters Friday, claiming that if the measure were approved, it would benefit South County developers instead of residents of the more populous north. The opponents, however, have been telling South County residents that the north would get most of the tax proceeds.

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