June's election will find the future of the Board of Supervisors very much a blank slate on which to write. That might be cause for apprehension, but Orange County actually has the opportunity to come out ahead. There are promising candidates for three openings, a board majority, who could bring new attention and respect for Orange County government.
Consider that a year and a half ago, the board was laboring to do its work while Don Roth clung to office under a cloud of investigation, at a time when two longtime members of the board, Thomas F. Riley and Harriett M. Wieder, were pointed in the direction of retirement. All the while, the board has struggled to cope with enormous demands for services at a time of dwindling resources. Its traditional power in land-use planning has been eroded, and now is tested severely by the civil war that has pitted North and South over the future of the El Toro Marine Corps Air Station. The county's persistent jail crisis awaits leadership.
All that will not be resolved easily with three new members. But Roth's departure signaled that the old days could be relegated to history. In the interim, the appointed incumbent William G. Steiner in the 4th District, covering the north central part of the county, including Anaheim and Orange, has filled the bill in both style and substance. It began with his "brown bag" lunches, and he has since contributed much through his extensive knowledge of social services. He also has an agreeable personal style, a quality needed on the board. Running in a contested race, he easily merits a full term.
Upon the retirement of Riley in the 5th District, which covers much of South County and its coastal areas, there might have been a royal battle for succession had anybody but state Sen. Marian Bergeson (R-Newport Beach) stepped into the fray. Her uncontested bid is itself a signal of the respect she commands from Orange County to Sacramento. Conservative, pragmatic and compassionate, she is one of the state's leading experts on state-county funding formulas, and can claim a hand in such progressive social legislation as prenatal health care for low-income women and children. Bergeson will arrive with the unusual potential of being a freshman with the status of a de facto leader.
To round out a trio of promising elected newcomers, we recommend Mayor Linda Moulton Patterson of Huntington Beach, a candidate in the fiercely contested 2nd District, which covers primarily her home city and Costa Mesa. Moulton Patterson brings a varied political resume, having served as a local school board president and currently with distinction as a member of the California Coastal Commission. On the board, we think she will not shrink from tough choices. Like Bergeson, she can bring helpful contacts from the larger political world.
Steiner, Bergeson and Moulton Patterson all are capable of thinking regionally and cooperatively. These are sound choices indeed for a new era in Orange County.