Q & A

* Orange traffic engineer Bernie W. Dennis

When Bernie W. Dennis became Orange's traffic engineer in 1963, the town had three stoplights and not a single left-turn lane. Dennis, 58, who retires today, is credited with developing an extensive traffic control system as the city grew and coordinating projects such as the $30-million expansion of La Veta and Main streets. He spoke with Times correspondent Lesley Wright about what he has observed over the years.

Q: Did the county's transportation system evolve according to a plan, or did it just happen?

A: A little of both. The key to transportation development in the county was the construction of the Santa Ana Freeway. That's Main Street Orange County. . . . Once we had the I-5, which connected L.A. to Orange County, it took Orange County out of the bedroom community concept. We became masters of our own destiny.

Q: Do you see a similar situation in the city of Orange?

A: One of the things that bothers me about the city is that we seem to have three different identities, and I don't think that's good. We have the Old Towne, we have East Orange and then we have Orange. . . . The Old Towne folks had an opportunity to buy and refurbish older homes and quite frankly did a very good job of it. Actually, they made that identity happen. The east Orange area, east of the Costa Mesa Freeway, they had the feeling that they were isolated. Well, maybe they were, and maybe they weren't. I hope not. Then there's the rest of us. I could call myself east Orange but I don't. I call myself Orange. I think there has to be a community effort made to bring us all back together.

Q: Were homeowner associations new when you started?

A: They were just in their founding stages. For example, for a whole period of time it seemed that every corner had a service station being put on it. I don't know that there was a service station built in Orange that the people in the immediate neighborhood didn't think was going to be their downfall, so they were always here to protest. But it was interesting, because you would have groups who would protest an action . . . very vocally, but once it was resolved there wasn't any animosity.

Q: People say you are very good at bringing groups together and forming consensus. How do you do that?

A: Be a good listener, never lie, and offer reasonable solutions to problems-- achievable solutions. But most of all, make the assumption that the person you're sitting across from knows what they're talking about. Never underestimate them. And always remember they're your constituents. . . . You don't forget them, you don't ignore them, and you listen to them because most of the time, they're right.

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