What was billed as a debate between two men identified with sharply divergent views about growth turned into a joint pledge of action Thursday to work to ease the flow of traffic through Orange County.
Irvine Mayor Larry Agran and Irvine Co. Vice Chairman Raymond L. Watson, speaking to a luncheon meeting of the Town Hall Forum in Irvine, agreed to work for widening and improving the Orange County portions of the San Diego and Santa Ana freeways to reduce gridlock.
The meeting was entitled "Urban Management: Feast or Famine."
While acknowledging fundamental differences with Agran over the pace of growth and development, Watson told a group of more than 300 that "there is hope that by joining forces we can make a difference. The time has come for us to stop the popular, but counterproductive, practices of blaming each other. We are both responsible. We all have contributed to our problems. The solutions will require action and sacrifices of all of us."
Agran, reiterating his opposition to the proposed Foothill and San Joaquin freeways, called for "a crash program to add traffic lanes and sound walls and to otherwise widen and improve the San Diego and Santa Ana freeways. These projects can't wait two or five or 10 years to be completed. They must begin immediately, and they must start to provide bona fide relief within a year or so."
The two men differed on related issues of development as well as on the causes of traffic congestion in the county.
In part, Watson blamed former Gov. Edmund G. Brown Jr. and his philosophy of "small is beautiful," which he characterized as "an era of substituting flimflam for action" and "sloganizing problems."
As a result, Watson said, people in Irvine and elsewhere in Orange County were convinced that "we didn't need either to finish the freeways we had started or build the new ones we had planned."
"If we have done such a great job in managing the city's growth, then why do we all spend so much time on the Santa Ana and San Diego freeways these days?" Watson asked.
Agran cited the voters' rejection in 1984 of Proposition A, which would have funded highway expansion, and said that resistance to development and new freeways occurred because citizens "concluded that where we were headed was toward a re-creation of the Los Angeles experience, complete with intolerable air pollution."
Blame for delays in making the needed highway improvements, the mayor said, should be placed on the Deukmejian Administration and the Legislature, as well as on local financing for the roadways, which he characterized as a "phony fee structure."
"Where is the leadership?" Agran asked, saying he would be willing to fly with Watson to Sacramento to lobby for the funding.
Watson said he would be willing to do what he could to get the governor "off his duff" on the highway improvements.