Newly installed Board of Supervisors Chairman Ralph Clark said Tuesday in his inaugural address that his colleagues should consider placing such issues as offshore oil drilling, new airport sites and a single, countywide fire department before Orange County voters this year.
Beginning his fourth--and last--stint as chairman since first joining the board in 1970, Clark suggested that such controversial issues be placed on countywide ballots in advisory votes aimed at gauging public sentiment. Such votes are not binding.
More decisions affecting the county are being made by the state and federal governments than when he first joined the board 16 years ago, Clark said. But he added:
"We still have some potent tools at our disposal. . . . One of those is to go directly to the people for a popular vote. . . . "
For example, Clark suggested that voters should be asked whether one fire department should serve the entire county. Currently, the county's 26 cities either have their own fire departments, contract with neighboring cities for service or contract with the county Fire Department.
In addition to the fire department issue, Clark said, "there are other areas--such as offshore oil drilling, finding a new airport site, or setting priorities for using our transportation dollars--which might be appropriate for a popular vote.
"But it's clear that the ballot measure is a powerful tool. We should use it sparingly, but we should not be afraid to use it."
As board chairmen have in previous years, Clark listed the $1.1-billion Santa Ana River flood-control program and the selection of a site for a new county jail as two of county government's top priorities this year.
Clark has said he will retire at the end of this year, and three men have declared their candidacies for his board seat--former Rep. Jerry M. Patterson, Anaheim Mayor Don R. Roth and Orange Mayor James H. Beam.
Clark recalled that countywide advisory votes in 1980 approved the proposed merger of the sheriff-coroner's office and the marshal's office, with the county later transferring court bailiff functions to the marshal and saving more than $1 million annually.
County Fire Chief Larry Holms said Clark had not talked to him about the concept of a countywide fire department.
"There are some benefits to regionalization that come with economies of scale," Holms said, citing purchases of expensive equipment as an example. "But whether the entire county is the appropriate picture, or whether there should be a couple of general, regional services, I don't know . . . . We're not shopping to acquire other fire departments."
Holms said the county Fire Department provides both fire and paramedic service to 10 cities--Seal Beach, Los Alamitos, Cypress, La Palma, Placentia, Yorba Linda, Villa Park, Tustin, Irvine and San Juan Capistrano. The department provides paramedic service to Stanton and Laguna Beach, and an engine company for the area of Newport Beach near John Wayne Airport.
Times staff writer John Needham contributed to this story.