Rejoining SCAG Makes Sense for County : If Nothing Else, Participation in the Group Gives Us a Say in Major Regional Issues

For many reasons, lots of folks in these parts don't much cotton to the Southern California Assn. of Governments, commonly known as SCAG. But it's time to end Orange County's lone cowboy position in the region and rejoin the group.

The Orange County Board of Supervisors stopped paying its $35,000-a-year dues in 1989 after a dispute over statistics used to project growth in the county. The county's withdrawal culminated years of hostility stemming from fears that the regional organization was dominated by Los Angeles County. There also were many other problems, including local objections to dictates by SCAG on affordable housing requirements and other issues affecting the county. SCAG didn't follow through on the housing requirements--a pragmatic decision--since it lacks enforcement powers on this and many other matters.

SCAG, however, does carry some clout in the area of transportation financing because road and transit projects that aren't included in its plans cannot qualify for federal highway funds. That helps impose regional concerns on local highway projects, but it doesn't always make SCAG very popular with cities and counties.

Although he has been a longtime critic of SCAG, Supervisor Thomas F. Riley last week asked his colleagues on the Board of Supervisors to authorize the county to rejoin SCAG. Riley cited his concern over suggestions that the El Toro Marine Corps Air Station, which is in his district, be used for commercial flights. Riley, who opposes joint military-commercial use of El Toro, believes that Orange County's presence in SCAG could help head off such efforts.

Whether that is so or not, rejoining SCAG is a good idea. By withdrawing from SCAG, Orange County lessened its influence on regional decisions important to the future of Southern California. SCAG at least provides a forum to discuss problems such as transportation, air pollution and growth management that don't necessarily respect lines drawn on a map. If the overwhelming urban problems facing the area are to be confronted, local officials must find multiple ways to work together.

Rejoining SCAG also would better position Orange County to take a leadership role in current efforts to fashion legislation in Sacramento that could influence regional planning for decades to come.

It's time for the county to get on the boat or be left behind at the dock. There is reason enough for the county to cough up the dues and once again become an active SCAG member.

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