COUNTYWIDE : Smog Regulators, Assemblymen Clash

Three Orange County legislators clashed bitterly with regional smog regulators at an informal hearing Friday and were accused of staging the confrontation to generate "sound bites."

"I don't know why we're even here," said Claremont Mayor Diann Ring, a member of the Southern California Assn. of Government's executive board. "I guess it's for bashing regional organizations. . . . I'm so angry that I don't even know where to begin."

Assemblyman Gil Ferguson (R-Newport Beach), an ardent foe of environmental regulations, called the ad-hoc hearing to challenge the right of SCAG and the South Coast Air Quality Management District to impose transportation control measures against the will of cities and businesses within Southern California.

Such measures are being contemplated because the South Coast air basin has a 2010 deadline for meeting state and federal clean-air standards.

Ferguson was joined at the meeting, held in the County Hall of Administration in Santa Ana, by fellow Assemblymen Nolan Frizzelle (R-Fountain Valley) and Mickey Conroy (R-Santa Ana).

Ferguson accused the two regional agencies of being "totally out of control" and in particular attacked a proposal to ban free parking. He said the agencies lacked authority to create parking fees, which he said would be an illegal tax if not approved by voters.

While Frizzelle called the agencies' decisions "arbitrary," Conroy accused environmentalists of controlling the decision-making process through the contributions to lawmakers that come from so-called green-oriented PACs.

SCAG and AQMD officials said the proposed ban on free parking is only one of many measures cities will be able to use to reduce harmful auto emissions, which contribute more than 60% of the region's smog. If a city can find a way to achieve the same emissions reductions another way, then charging fees for parking won't be necessary, officials said.

In one of the hearings' harshest exchanges, Brian Mudd, director of the Air Pollution Research Center, testified that people with health problems such as asthma and emphysema show up at area hospitals more often during periods of increased air pollution.

"They probably ought to move," Frizzelle replied.

A series of speakers rose to represent the business community, including Malcolm Ross of the South Coast Metro Alliance, a group that includes South Coast Plaza. Ross said it would take more than $900,000 to install parking fee collection systems at the massive shopping complex, and more than $600,000 a year to operate them.

Banks would be unlikely to loan the money, Ross said, because there would not be any corresponding increase in business at the shopping center to justify the cost.

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