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County Pushes for Ambitious Legislative Package in '86

January 12, 1986|KENNETH F. BUNTING | Times Staff Writer

SACRAMENTO — With a largely successful year just ended, Orange County has opened 1986 by asking California legislators for relief from a barrage of airport noise-nuisance suits, approval of a money-raising scheme to build two new court buildings and a means of financing the $1-billion Santa Ana River flood-control project.

The ambitious package of legislative objectives so far contains 16 new bills and seven left over from the first half of the 1985-86 session.

Most of the bills involve strictly local matters and would have little or no impact outside the county. One significant exception is a measure regarding criminal trials that seems certain to gain mention in this year's campaign over confirmation of Supreme Court justices.

As legislators returned here last week following a 3 1/2-month recess, lobbyists employed by the county had persuaded lawmakers--members of the Orange County delegation in most cases--to carry all but a handful of the bills the county is sponsoring.

New Objectives in Program

There were some new objectives as well as some familiar ones in the legislative program approved by the Orange County Board of Supervisors and forwarded to their hired advocates here.

Dennis E. Carpenter, the county's chief state government lobbyist, said last week the prospects for passage of the major measures sought by the county are good.

To pay for a new Superior Court building and a new Juvenile Court, Sen. Marian Bergeson (R-Newport Beach) has agreed to carry a new bill that would allow Orange County to raise fines for parking and traffic infractions.

The measure, which would raise $5 million a year for construction of the two court buildings, represents a significant departure from an approach tried last year that angered officials of virtually all the county's cities.

The 1985 measure, by Assemblyman Richard Robinson (D-Garden Grove), would have raised courthouse construction money without raising fines. Instead, Robinson proposed to reduce by 5% the cities' share of money from fines and penalties.

Measure Sparked Protests

Because of protests from the county's municipalities, the measure never advanced past the first committee to which it was assigned.

Bergeson's bill, as proposed by the county, would leave city revenues untouched. To finance the new courthouses, it would add $1.50 to each parking fine and a penalty assessment of $1 for each $10 in fines for other traffic offenses.

A typical $30 first-offense ticket for running a red light--which now actually costs $52 because of previously imposed assessments for police training, victim-assistance programs and another court expansion program--would rise to $55.

The Legislature passed similar legislation for San Diego and Santa Clara counties last year.

A hearing is scheduled this week on another major county bill--a measure introduced last year by Sen. John Seymour (R-Anaheim) that would allow the county to raise money for the proposed Santa Ana River flood-control project through voter-approved "benefit assessments" added to property tax bills.

Between 25% and 35% of the cost of the huge project would have to be raised locally. County officials are hoping for congressional approval in Washington in a matter of days or weeks.

But regardless of what happens in Washington, county officials say they will try to move ahead with Seymour's bill, which has yet to come up for even a committee vote although it was introduced last March.

The Army Corps of Engineers would like to begin work on the project, expected to take about 20 years, by the end of the decade. The main components of the project would be a new dam on the upper part of the river near Redlands, improvements on the existing Prado Dam, and a variety of improvements on flood channels along the river and along Santiago Creek.

The local share of the proposed project, once estimated at $400 million, could be as low as $250 million if Congress assumes a larger federal share and if a new cost revision by the Corps of Engineers, knocking $200 million off the overall projected cost, holds up.

The measure, which would give the county broad powers to define and create assessment districts, does not go into detail on how the assessments would be imposed. But county officials say assessments would vary.

Varied Assessments

Carl Nelson, public works chief in the county Environmental Management Agency, said, for example, that a homeowner in Fountain Valley would almost surely pay more than a homeowner in Buena Park, where the threat of a severe flood is considerably less. Homeowners in San Clemente, where there will be no direct benefit from the flood control improvements, would probably be assessed nothing, he added.

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