Irvine officials have agreed to seek to renew the city's participation in two joint powers authorities created last year to help finance and design two controversial freeways.
The city still will not have voting memberships on those panels, however, unless residents approve them in a citywide vote.
Council members voted unanimously Tuesday night to re-enter discussions on crucial issues of freeway routes and designs, but they also decided not to seek full voting memberships because of the financial penalties for withdrawal later should the city does not like the final plans.
The two freeways involved are the Eastern and the Foothill, planned for areas north and east of the city. No decision was made on participation in the joint powers authority overseeing development of the San Joaquin Hills freeway south of the city. Officials said negotiations about that matter are still pending.
The joint powers authorities consist of representatives from the county, the building industry and the governments of cities that would be affected by the planned freeways. The agencies levy fees on developers to help finance the projects. Irvine would lose up to four years' worth of collected fees if it were to hold voting membership and later withdraw.
Led by a new slow-growth majority, the Irvine council voted last June not to participate in the joint-powers authorities until city residents have a chance to vote on the issue of participation and unless objections to some of the routes and designs are met.
In a forceful reaction, the joint-powers authorities rejected Irvine's demands and barred the city from participating even as a non-voting member, which it had been doing.
"The important thing to remember is that there is still going to be an election, which is a vindication of our previous position," Irvine Mayor Larry Agran said Wednesday. "The people will still have a chance to decide whether they like the projects before they are built."
The election issue surfaced when a group of Irvine residents circulated a ballot initiative petition to block the city's participation in the freeway funding program. A group of builders and developers who strongly favor construction of the freeways then sued to block the ballot initiative. The issue is now before the California Supreme Court.
Irvine officials expect to have a citywide advisory vote on the freeway routes if the Supreme Court rules that citizens do not have a right to a binding decision on an advisory vote.
Orange County Supervisor Bruce Nestande said Wednesday that the joint-powers authorities probably will agree to allow Irvine representatives to participate as non-voting members.