The war between Irvine and other local governments over three new freeways escalated Thursday when two consortia, set up to raise money for highway construction, barred Irvine from formal participation.
Earlier this week, the Irvine City Council's "slow growth" majority voted to let residents decide if the city should participate in the consortia, known as "joint powers authorities." The council also set conditions for the city's participation, including route and width constraints, and land-use restrictions tied to freeway traffic-handling capacities.
County Supervisor Bruce Nestande, angered by Irvine's actions, led the move Thursday to reject Irvine's conditions and characterized it as "an acceptance of Irvine's resignation" from the joint powers authorities.
However, he acknowledged that the action was tantamount to expelling Irvine, which did not actually submit a letter or statement announcing its resignation.
But Irvine Mayor Larry Agran said, "Clearly, we can hardly be expelled from something that obviously we are not members of."
Irvine became a non-voting member several months ago pending the outcome of lawsuits. Those suits contend that the question of the city's participation in the freeway financing program should be put to a vote among the city's residents. The California Supreme Court is expected to rule this fall.
Thursday's action occurred during a rare joint meeting of the two consortia, which were created to oversee financing for the San Joaquin Hills, Eastern and Foothill transportation corridors, all of which border Irvine.
Nestande said Irvine still has the right to testify at consortium meetings like any other organization or member of the public, but its policy-making role "no longer exists."
Nestande, a member of the state Transportation Commission, is the Republican nominee for secretary of state. Many contributors to Nestande's statewide and county campaigns are developers in the Building Industry Assn., which last year sued to block a citywide referendum on Irvine's participation in the freeway financing program.
However, Nestande said Thursday that he is only concerned with what he called Irvine's attempt to avoid its responsibility to help solve regional transportation problems.
Irvine was represented at Thursday's meeting by Councilman David Baker. According to Nestande, Baker was "unable to articulate" any other position for the city than the demands laid down at a council meeting Tuesday night.
"We were not going to accept those things," Nestande said.
Baker was unavailable for comment. Agran said the city cannot afford to take up its conditions for participating in the freeway financing program while sitting as a consortium member because there is a "severe penalty" for later withdrawal: four years' worth of fees collected from developers by the city.
Currently, the fees are being collected but are not being spent pending the outcome of the suits.
Agran said he still believes Irvine will be able to join the consortia later and work with the 10 other cities and county supervisors who make up consortium membership.
Among Irvine's conditions for participation are that the Foothill Freeway either be eliminated or moved substantially north of currently envisioned alignments, that the San Joaquin Hills Freeway be reduced to an artery resembling University Drive and that future construction be restricted to levels that can be adequately served by the area's transportation system.
Irvine is expected to contribute 25% or more of the fees involved in the total program. The Building Industry Assn. has supported the development fees because it believes the freeways are needed to alleviate current and future traffic congestion that makes the county a less attractive place to buy homes and establish businesses.