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County Marks Wins and Losses at Half Time for Legislature

September 23, 1985|KENNETH F. BUNTING | Times Staff Writer

SACRAMENTO — For local governments and institutions in San Diego County, the first half of the 1985-86 legislative session ended with the usual mix of tears and laughter.

On its major legislative goals, the county was no better or worse off than when the session began.

A complex package to clean up sewage that flows into the southwestern part of the county across the Mexican border stalled in the Senate after passing the Assembly, setting the stage for an election-year debate.

But the Legislature approved bills to improve the county's transportation network, expand one of its higher-education institutions and give local officials a greater voice in the statewide fight against air pollution.

"All in all, I'd say it has been a good session," said Patricia Gayman, the Sacramento-based lobbyist who shepherds legislation for San Diego County government.

On the down side, however, Gov. George Deukmejian struck money from the state budget for mental health, alcohol and drug abuse programs that would have compensated San Diego for years of financing below the level in other urban counties.

And, despite rumors of a last-minute compromise that would bring about long-sought reform, local governments at session's end remained vulnerable "deep pockets" who could be forced to pay millions of dollars in court judgments for injuries for which they are minimally at fault.

Both city and county officials had said at the start of the session that mental health financing and relief from the so-called "deep pockets" rule were their top legislative priorities.

The Legislature adjourned for the year after a marathon all-night session last weekend.

On the final day, state lawmakers passed one of the most important bills for San Diego County--a measure by state Sen. Wadie Deddeh (D-Chula Vista) creating a county transportation commission and giving it authority to levy a voter-approved sales tax of up to a penny per dollar.

With $148 million in estimated annual revenues if voters agree to pay the full penny-per-dollar sales tax increase, plus additional borrowing power through revenue bonds, the new taxing authority could go a long way toward making up the $3.2 billion local officials say they will need during the next 20 years to help pay for needed transit, road and freeway improvements.

But on another source of local transportation money--continued collection of the Coronado Bridge toll after the cost of the 11,000-foot-long structure is paid for next year--the legislative session dealt the San Diego area what some local officials consider a mild setback.

State Department of Transportation (Caltrans) officials, threatening a gubernatorial veto, prodded local legislators into agreeing to a vaguely worded compromise that leaves the long-range future of the bridge toll unsettled for now. Although a measure continuing the $1.20 bridge toll--the state's highest--was approved for the time being, state officials warned that using the toll money to pay for any transportation projects other than maintenance, operation or improvements to the 16-year-old bridge itself is out of the question.

For San Diego County commuters, the end result, once financial projections and a toll-financed study of traffic congestion is completed, may very well be a bridge toll that is lowered to 50 cents or 75 cents, Caltrans officials say.

As the session ended, Deukmejian signed into law a bill authorizing studies to find a site and determine the feasibility of a satellite campus of San Diego State University in the growing North County area.

Awaiting the governor's signature were bills giving San Diego County a permanent seat on the state's Air Resources Board; a bill that will allow the county to raise vehicle registration fees to install emergency call boxes along 580 miles of freeways, and two bills that could eventually give San Diego County nine Superior Court and four Municipal Court judges.

Signed into law earlier this year were bills continuing the county's three-year-old "workfare" experiment; financing a restoration project on 170-year-old Padre Dam in Mission Trails Regional Park, and allowing the continued collection of the special two-cent property tax for the San Diego Zoo.

But legislation easing the "deep pocket" rule--both by changing the legal doctrine of joint and several liability, and by granting new legal immunities to local governments--did not fare as well.

Gayman said the two-year extension of the county workfare project, passed even as a statewide program was being enacted, was perhaps her biggest satisfaction of the session.

"But workfare (the San Diego bill) was three months ago," she said.

With three years of experience running a similar program, San Diego could be one of the first counties in the state to start the massive welfare reform program agreed to by Deukmejian and Democratic leaders in the waning hours of the session.

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