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A Post-Mortem on Measure A : Traffic Was Big Factor; Plan Too Sweeping, Some Say

November 27, 1986|HEIDI EVANS | Times Staff Writer

It was a heady morning-after for the Newport Beach activists who, on a comparatively slim campaign budget, sent the Irvine Co. back to the drawing boards in Tuesday's special election on the company's proposed $300-million expansion of Newport Center.

There were calls of congratulations from campaign volunteers and even a call or two from people outside Newport Beach looking for advice on how they, too, could prevail against developers in political campaigns in their cities. "I couldn't get out of the house this morning," said neighborhood activist Bobby Lovell.

'Talking to Ourselves?'

"The thing that feels good about the election to me is that we--groups like Newport 2000 and SPON (Stop Polluting Our Newport)--are representing the people of Newport Beach," said Allan Beek, 59, a Rockwell engineer who spearheaded the public referendum on the proposed expansion that was soundly defeated Tuesday. "At times we wonder: Are we just talking to ourselves? Something like this confirms we're not, so that feels pretty good."

Both sides agreed that residents' fear of increased traffic from the three office towers in the Irvine Co.'s expansion proposals was at the heart of the defeat of Measure A.

Said William Ficker, chairman of the pro-Measure A group, Citizens for a Better Newport: "The message the no vote was selling is simple: 'We don't want any more traffic.' It's very difficult for the citizens of this community to truly understand that you can have more (car) trips and more cars and still have traffic move better."

David Paine, the campaign consultant for Citizens for a Better Newport, added: "Any large plan is a target for those who are opposed to growth. Given the magnitude of the Newport Center plan, it was hard for people to conceive (that) the road improvements would make a difference."

Measure A, had it passed, would have allowed the construction of houses, apartments, shops, restaurants, cultural facilities and a day-care center, as well as the three office towers. The Irvine Co. also had promised $47 million in road improvements in and around the Newport Center/Fashion Island area as part of the project.

Supporters of the measure said Wednesday that its defeat may mean broad master planning is doomed to be supplanted with a less desirable "piecemeal" approach to city development.

"When you have a big master plan, the numbers become so frightening it scares everybody away," Ficker said. "We are all going to have to give that some thought."

Newport Beach Mayor John C. Cox Jr. added: "The major question that shows up is whether you can place a master plan like this in front of the voters, have them grapple with the extensive number of elements and be able to net out the benefits. It's just too big a thing for people to evaluate and come to a conclusion."

City in 'Awkward Position'

Cox, who voted for the expansion project when it was before the City Council and spoke on its behalf during the Measure A campaign, said the election was "very disappointing." He said the plan was "the city's plan as much as it was the Irvine Co.'s plan," adding that Tuesday's election has put the city in an awkward position.

"How do you proceed from here to develop the city in a planned, orderly fashion?" Cox said. "Everything has to go back to the drawing board, be re-thought. It doesn't mean the problems have gone away."

But Councilman Donald A. Strauss, who voted against the expansion when it was approved by the council on a 5-2 vote last spring, disagreed with that assessment.

"I don't think a big plan like that necessarily overwhelms the voters," Strauss said. "They may not know all the details--John and I probably don't either--but they got the essence of what was involved and decided they didn't want it. The fundamental message of Tuesday's election is that citizens want to slow down the pace of development and avoid overdevelopment. I hope they (other council members) will recognize that there is another point of view which I don't think they have recognized."

Almost 20,000 voters turned out for Tuesday's special election, and the unofficial tally was 11,445 votes against Measure A and 8,309 for it, according to the county registrar of voters. The Irvine Co. spent more than $600,000 on its pro-Measure A campaign, contrasted with expenditures of about $15,000 by Gridlock, the group headed by Beek that circulated petitions calling for the special election and mounted the campaign against the measure. Measure A was endorsed by four local newspapers.

'Worth the Battle'

Asked whether the Irvine Co. had taken too big a risk by taking on Gridlock in a special election, Irvine Co. political consultant Eileen Padberg said: "The effort was worth the battle. . . . It's worth rolling the dice."

Padberg said, however, that she does not view the vote as a rejection of the Irvine Co. or its plans for Newport Center.

"They don't want any more offices. They don't want any more buildings . . . they don't want any more condos," she said. "I think that is very shortsighted. It is sticking your head in the sand and hoping it will all go away."

She said in hindsight that she would not do anything differently and doubts that Irvine Co. officials or other pro-Measure A supporters would either.

"The 'yes' side has a much more difficult job" in initiative and referendum campaigns regarding growth," Padberg said. "When you are campaigning for no more traffic and no more people, that's easy."

Times staff writer Kenneth F. Bunting contributed to this story.

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