Cities Join Forces to Tackle Common Growth Problems : South County: Mayors, realizing traffic problems aren’t just local issues, are increasingly cooperating with one another to extend roads and unclog bottlenecks.
Lake Forest Mayor Helen Wilson is considering an Amtrak station in her town. Laguna Niguel Mayor Thomas W. Wilson looks forward to an extended Alicia Parkway. And Laguna Hills Mayor Melody Carruth worries about more traffic from proposed expansion of the Laguna Hills Mall.
Such concerns, highlighted in interviews with South County mayors, show that growth management remains a center-stage issue in most of the region, even though cities are also struggling with recession-drained budgets and stalled development in the area.
In Mission Viejo, Mayor Robert A. Curtis said, “Traffic and fear of densities outpacing infrastructure is the No. 1 issue in the city.”
An informal survey of seven mayors and a mayor pro tem, including two whose cities formed only within the past month, found that in 1992 they will be working on projects ranging from traffic light synchronization to expansion of arterial roads.
They will also be carefully monitoring the development of planned toll roads in the region, which they hope will relieve existing bottlenecks and provide an opportunity for new business along their paths.
Increasingly, the mayors say they are cooperating with one another and serving on regionwide, multi-government transportation agencies with the realization that traffic is not just a local issue anymore.
This cooperative approach to problem solving in south Orange County, they say, has been aided in recent years by the emergence of new cities that have gained independence from county government and share common interests.
“The big plus to having cities down here is the ability of local residents to take care of their problems. It has been an absolute boon for the city of San Juan Capistrano,” said Kenneth E. Friess, mayor pro tem. (Gil Jones, the city’s newly elected mayor, was out of town for the holidays and could not be reached.)
Friess noted that 1992 will mark the completion of a long-awaited addition of an on-ramp to Interstate 5 with the expansion of Stonehill Drive in Dana Point. He said the project has been pushed jointly by San Juan Capistrano and Dana Point for the past three years.
Friess said the Stonehill project will offer a more convenient alternative for Dana Point residents who now drive through San Juan Capistrano to the freeway. Dana Point Mayor Mike Eggers is equally elated, saying the project will eliminate a longstanding bottleneck on a bridge between Coast Highway and Interstate 5 in Dana Point.
Eggers predicted increased cooperation among surrounding cities in solving traffic problems. “You can no longer work in a vacuum,” he said. “Not only is it not cost-effective, but it makes no sense.”
Eggers noted that Dana Point’s plans to improve traffic circulation must take into consideration that several major roads in the city also pass through other jurisdictions. Crown Valley Parkway, for instance, passes through Laguna Niguel and Dana Point; Street of the Golden Lantern also stretches through Laguna Hills, Laguna Niguel, and the unincorporated community of Aliso Viejo, and Del Obispo Street also straddles San Juan Capistrano.
“So you can’t curl up in a ball,” Eggers said. “You have to reach out to other cities.” Moreover, he added, it is cheaper for cities to share consultant costs for solving a common problem.
“Regional growth and its resultant traffic are two paramount issues in Laguna Beach,” said Mayor Robert F. Gentry. “Traffic and growth, like smog, do not respect city borders.”
Like other South County cities that are largely built out, Laguna Beach is warily watching what is happening in cities just beyond its borders. “Every house that goes up within 20 miles of us will impact our beach and put pressure on city services,” Gentry said.
He said Laguna Beach residents are already feeling pressure from surrounding new development, much of which has been marketed by featuring the proximity to the city’s beaches. “Beaches aren’t as clean as they used to be, and sidewalks aren’t as clean, and the roads are not as well maintained.” he said.
In 1992, he said, Laguna Beach will pursue a lawsuit it recently filed to try to block a county-approved commercial development called Rossmoor Business Park, which the city worries will increase traffic in its environmentally sensitive canyon area.
Laguna Niguel Mayor Wilson said his city’s goal for 1992 “will be getting the extension of Alicia Parkway built from Pacific Park Drive to Aliso Creek Road,” a 2.5-mile segment that is designed to improve traffic flow to Interstate 5.
Mission Viejo Mayor Curtis said one of the most important achievements of his young city has been to negotiate a downscaling of development planned by the Mission Viejo Co. within its borders.
In 1992, he said, the city will work at repairing its aging streets, synchronizing traffic signals, removing trucks from surface streets and supporting construction of the Foothill Corridor, which would reroute around the city traffic coming from communities to the east such as Coto de Caza and Rancho Santa Margarita.
Helen Wilson, mayor of the new city of Lake Forest, which like Laguna Hills attained cityhood Dec. 21, said Lake Forest is also looking forward to construction of the Foothill Corridor to relieve traffic. The corridor should also provide an opportunity for new business along its route, which passes through her city, Wilson added.
Wilson said traffic from developing communities to the east of Lake Forest already has clogged El Toro Road as it passes through Lake Forest to the freeway. This traffic, she said, is blocking intersections used by customers of retail stores on the road.
To alleviate the problem, Wilson said, the new city will consider striping intersections on El Toro and ticketing cars that are caught there when the lights change or perhaps connecting the parking lots of small malls so their customers can drive from one shop to another without entering El Toro.
In addition, she said, the city will consider having an Amtrak terminal built in its redevelopment area on El Toro Road between Rockfield Boulevard and Trabuco Road that could be used by the city’s commuters and also attract shoppers.
On El Toro Road west of Interstate 5, the new city of Laguna Hills in 1992 will be monitoring a planned major expansion of the Laguna Hills Mall to try to reduce any adverse effect on traffic in the city, said Mayor Carruth.
Friess, of San Juan Capistrano, said that city hopes to have a voice in devising plans for handling traffic that will be generated by the 5,000-home Talega Valley community to be developed just outside San Juan Capistrano’s southeastern border. Half of Talega Valley is within the city of San Clemente and half within an unincorporated area governed by the county.
But even with much of the focus on traffic, San Clemente Mayor Joseph Anderson says the recession and the fiscal headache it has created for his city are outpacing concerns for growth management.
That hasn’t always been the case. Anderson noted that years ago San Clemente adopted a resolution allowing no more than 500 homes to be built each year in the city. “But for the last two years it has been academic,” he said.
Anderson said that, theoretically, the pause in development would give city officials time to work on planning. “But our attention is diverted because of current and potential fiscal problems,” in part spawned by a decline in city revenue from development-related fees, he said.
“The name of the game this year,” he said, “is fiscal survival more than growth management.”