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Panel Again Declines to Put O.C. Light-Rail Question on Ballot

Times Staff Writer

Rather than let voters have a say in the controversial CenterLine project, Orange County transportation leaders on Monday said they would try to build political support for the $1-billion light-rail system among local cities.

For the second time in a month, the Orange County Transportation Authority’s Board of Directors killed a proposal to place an advisory measure on the November ballot as a possible way to persuade Congress to help fund the project.

Instead, board members voted 8 to 3 on a plan to build a consensus in favor of CenterLine among cities interested in light-rail service for the future.

OCTA is seeking about $500 million in federal funds for the project, but CenterLine has had little support among the county’s congressional delegation, except for Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-Garden Grove).

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As now envisioned, Centerline would run 9.3 miles from John Wayne Airport to the Santa Ana train station. It would travel through the South Coast Metro area in Costa Mesa and the Santa Ana Civic Center.

The board first voted 5 to 4 on July 16 to keep the project off the ballot. The matter was revisited Monday to let two directors, who were absent from the earlier meeting, weigh in on the issue.

“Some of us are having heartburn over expenditures for this project,” said Orange County Supervisor and OCTA board member Jim Silva, who had asked that the board reconsider the ballot measure after the first vote, which he had missed. “We are writing checks for hundreds of thousands of dollars [for lobbyists], only to be turned down in Washington.”

Though Silva views a countywide advisory vote on CenterLine as a possible way “to break the logjam,” he said he decided to back instead the motion by Santa Ana Mayor Miguel A. Pulido to have OCTA work with cities to garner more support for light rail, particularly the 87-mile system in the county’s master plan. Associations of cities in western and northern Orange County have said they are interested in extensions of CenterLine if the first leg of the system is built.

Supporters of the project also note that county voters already approved commuter rail lines in general when they passed the Measure M transportation sales tax almost 14 years ago.

“We are at a standstill on the project,” said Cathryn DeYoung, a Laguna Niguel city councilwoman and OCTA board member who had sought to put the matter on the ballot. “We need to show support. I see the vote as a way to jump-start it.”


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