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Costa Mesa Official Plans New Bid for AQMD Post : Pollution: With legislative help, Peter Buffa will try again to supplant Henry Wedaa as O.C.'s board member.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

With an assist from the state Legislature, Costa Mesa Councilman Peter F. Buffa declared Tuesday that he will once again try to dethrone Orange County’s embattled representative on the South Coast Air Quality Management District board.

The conservative Buffa failed to dislodge Yorba Linda Councilman Henry W. Wedaa from his air board seat in January, 1992, but now feels he can prevail because of recent action in Sacramento to diminish the moderate incumbent’s chances of remaining in power.

The legislation, pushed through in an eleventh-hour maneuver by conservative Sen. John R. Lewis (R-Orange) and Assemblyman Curt Pringle (R-Garden Grove), would require Wedaa by March 1 to garner a two-thirds vote of mayors in Orange County cities, representing two-thirds of cities’ population, or forfeit the post. Previously, an incumbent could retain the job unless a challenger managed to get a two-thirds vote, a threshold that Lewis argued gave Wedaa a virtual “appointment for life.”

Buffa contends that the mayors, faced with the prospect that Orange County would be left without a voice on the AQMD if they don’t zero in on a consensus candidate, would ultimately turn to him as their chosen representative. Buffa also suggested that, as California continues to be tugged by recession, his pro-business approach would win votes.

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“It’s the early going, but I’d hope everyone takes a fresh look at it and say it is time for a change,” Buffa said. “There’s been a pretty substantial change on a lot of the city councils, a whole lot of people who weren’t in this fight the last time. That could make a difference.”

But a number of obstacles remain for Buffa.

First, Wilson must sign the bill, and the governor and his advisers have yet to decide on it. Capital insiders, however, say it appears unlikely that Wilson will risk a veto, because the anti-Wedaa legislation is tied to a measure the governor supports that would exempt businesses with less than 100 employees from AQMD ride-sharing programs. In addition, Wilson might not dare alienate Orange County conservatives who want to dump Wedaa, a moderate Republican.

Air district officials are working hard to sway Wilson to veto the measure. They argue that the legislation championed by Lewis and Pringle singles out Orange County for different treatment than other counties, overrides local control and risks putting the county in a position of having no representative on the AQMD.

“We don’t have high hopes that the governor is going to veto this, but we feel it’s something we need to do,” said Sharon H. Morris, AQMD intergovernmental affairs officer.

Meanwhile, Wedaa has promised a fight. He was out of town Tuesday, but late last week he said he will battle hard to retain his post and is confident that he has the support of many cities “sitting in my pockets.”

While some cities that supported Wedaa in 1992 seem to be edging away from him, many are refraining from taking a position for now or remain staunch backers.

“I just really don’t have a feel for who has the support,” said William Hodge, executive director of the Orange County division of the League of California Cities. “In the past, there’s been no clear consensus. Last year we had two elections with six ballots and no one got close to garnering two thirds.”

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With that sort of split in the ranks, Hodge said he will recommend that the mayors meet to vote soon after Wilson signs the bill so an agreeable candidate can emerge before the March 1 deadline.

In Irvine, which stood behind Wedaa through six ballots last year, Councilman Barry J. Hammond said he would like to see a change. “Personally, I think that Hank has probably gotten too close to the issues at the AQMD,” Hammond said. “He sees more the bureaucratic side rather than the city or business community side. It’s the old can’t-see-the-forest-through-the-trees sort of thing.”

But leaders in several other cities expressed ire over the efforts of Lewis and Pringle--and suggested that Wedaa remains the best choice for the job.

“It’s ridiculous, it’s pathetic,” said Mission Viejo Mayor Robert D. Breton, a staunch Wedaa backer. “It was jammed through the legislative hopper at the last minute without a full airing.”

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Breton said he sensed an anti-Wedaa sentiment in other cities for a time, but that “the momentum has shifted back into Wedaa’s corner; he has converted a lot of doubters.”


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