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Orange County At A 'Crossroads'

May 21, 1985|JOHN HORN

The freeways on this television show are not filled with high-speed, derring-do chases. Rather, they are filled with stop-and-go traffic.

The police on this TV show don't exchange gunfire with desperate criminals.

Rather, they sit at home, chatting with their wives.

The mega-rich on this TV show don't blather about who's sleeping around with whom.

Rather, they intone portentously about land development.

For this TV show is a look at life in Orange County. The view is that of "Crossroads of Paradise," a "KCET Journal"special report airing Wednesday at 9 p.m. on KCET, Channel 28.

But it is hardly a saccharine vision.

"Crossroads of Paradise" is an examination of whether Orange County's boom will lead to its bust and of the serious problems--housing shortages and traffic congestion among them--that the region's stunning growth is creating.

The documentary, for example, challenges the quickly fading belief that Orange County is squalor-free. There is special attention paid to the area's residents who cannot afford housing and those who don't have jobs, or, for that matter, those who don't have shelter or food. All this amid the opulence, the sailboats, the limousines and the beach-front mansions. And, as another contrast, "Crossroads of Paradise" studies the infusion of Vietnamese refugees into an area whose population is dominated by whites.

"I suspect that people who live in both (Los Angeles and Orange) counties will see a great deal that they did not expect," said Rob Sharkey, the documentary's producer and a veteran Orange County broadcaster. "But I hope that people--particularly people in Orange County--will look at it with a sense of pride and accomplishment. They need not compare themselves with anyone else. It's a unique county."

When Sharkey began work on "Crossroads of Paradise" late last year, he said he didn't know where he would begin, though he wanted to focus more on the area's present situation, less on its history. After preliminary interviews with residents, he chose to ignore Orange County's recreation, educational system and performing arts and concentrate, as he put it, "on the primary issues of concerned people in Orange County today: homes, jobs, transportation. What I tried to do was present a portrait of Orange County today in terms of those issues."

"The title of the documentary reflects that," Sharkey continued. "Crossroads is a metaphor. Literally, it means the freeways, but metaphorically it means a dilemma."

For Sharkey, there are two major problems: first, that wealth and poverty existside by side. "It may be the deepest division in a county of stark contrasts," said Sharkey. "Where million-dollar homes line billion-dollar beaches and still 140,000 people live below the level of poverty . . . . Statistically, Orange County is the third poorest county in California. How many in Orange County would know that?"

The second problem, said Sharkey, is that the area's burgeoning economy is beginning to strangle itself. If there is one central image in "Crossroads of Paradise" it is that of horrific freeway traffic, the byproduct of rampant growth. In addition, Orange County's housing prices--the cost of which, Sharkey said, have led the nation for the last three years--have forced many in the work force into long-distance commuting, exacerbating the transportation problem. To hear the people in the documentary discuss it, the traffic crunch cannot be overcome easily, quickly or painlessly.

All the while, crime and decay thrive in pockets throughout the county, including the slum of Buena Clinton in Garden Grove and among the homeless in the county's Featherly Regional Park in Yorba Linda.

Sharkey and Tom Thompson, the program's executive producer, agree that an essential element in their investigation was an assessment of Orange County's rapid development from a bedroom community--an unremarkable corridor between San Diego and Los Angeles--to its own urban center. "I can think of no region," said UC Irvine's Spencer Olin in the documentary, "in which this process has gone with such rapidity as Orange County . . . . It has experienced in two or three decades . . . an evolutionary process that in other regions of the world have taken at least a century and probably more."

"There is now a unique attitude among the people," said Thompson, "that they (the people of Orange County) are no longer living in a suburb of L.A. It is a self-sufficient, dynamic community . . . . They would like a divorce from L.A.

"For a lot of people, it (the documentary) paints a positive picture. But it (Orange County) is also a place where you have a lot of problems."

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