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ORANGE COUNTY AT WORK: CAREERS, COMPANIES, CORPORATE LIFE : PERSONAL VISIONS : County Business, Academic Leaders Look Ahead 25 Years : Ray Watson, Vice Chairman the Irvine Co.

May 03, 1987|JOHN O'DELL | Assistant Business Editor

They've come to Orange County in droves in the past two decades; businesses big and small. There were almost 50,000 of them at last count.

And each year, hundreds more arrive; finding in Orange County the climate, the skilled labor pool, the living conditions, the proximity to major national and international markets and financial centers that make this area one of the prime business addresses in the world.

But every once in a while, lost in the publicity given to stories of growth and success, comes word that a business has left Orange County, or has looked the county over and decided to pass it by.

The deserters and the no-shows are barely a trickle, but they are an early sign that not all is perfect in paradise.

On the flip side of climate, life style and location are air pollution, traffic congestion, housing that many workers can't afford and an uncertainty about the adequacy of the county's water supply.

Mindful that, for all it has going for it, Orange County still has some serious problems to grapple with, The Times asked a group of county business and academic leaders to consider the future--the Orange County of 25 years from now.

None of them pretended to have all the solutions to the problems we face, but each offered a highly personal vision of where the county is going and suggestions as to what it will take to get it there.

Most of the writers were cheerfully upbeat; one offered a fairly pessimistic look at what is to come, and even the most optimistic acknowledged that we face serious problems as we work to keep what we have today from becoming legend tomorrow.

Best of all, each of the six articles that follows offers serious and well-thought suggestions--some sure to become controversial, all worthy of consideration--for beginning to come to grips with the future.

As we approach the 21st Century, the manner in which we resolve the key problems facing us--how intelligently and efficiently we react and respond to problems that include population growth, traffic congestion, air pollution, an uncertain water supply and the cost of housing--will play a major role in where, and how well, our children and grandchildren will live.

First, we must realize that any problem associated with growth and changing life styles has no simple or inexpensive solution.

That said, I believe that the L.A.-Orange County metropolitan area is, and will continue to be, one of the most desirable places in the United States in which to work and live. And this means that growth--and the problems that go with it--is inexorable.

This growth has brought dramatic changes over the past 25 years, and change will be no less dramatic from now until the turn of the century.

I've been here through it all, and one of the most profound differences can be seen on our roads.

During the 1960s, in the typical Orange County family, one member traveled to work during rush hours, and one member stayed at home and used the roads in what we call the "off-peak" hours. Today, the typical family has two working members. This alone has increased vehicles and travel time.

At the same time, the number of households has grown, and all the while, we stopped building enough new roads and freeways to support all these new vehicles. This has brought us to the traffic crisis of today.

What can be done? I say it is high time for leaders in both the public and private sectors to contribute their fair share of the funds needed to provide an adequate transportation system, a system long overdue.

But it doesn't stop there. We must find efficient ways to manage the system. For if there is one lesson we learned from the Los Angeles Olympics, it was that a combination of pool rides, removal of trucks from the freeways during peak hours and quicker Highway Patrol response to accidents significantly increased the efficiency of our system.

There is much talk about reducing traffic and resolving other problems by controlling growth. We might as well say right here: Because we can't stop it, we have to manage it, which means we must build the infrastructure--new roads, new schools, new water systems--as the population grows.

The reason we often don't build the roads in concert with population growth is the naive assumption that roads cause growth and that if you don't build them, growth won't occur. But I hope we have learned in the last 20 years that this type of thinking has been the major contributor to the growing problem of traffic gridlock.

I subscribe to the views of Robert Cervero, associate professor of city and regional planning at the University of California, Berkeley, in his recent article, "Unlocking Suburban Gridlock."

Commenting on the wave of growth controls sweeping this state, Cervero said that such controls "from both a transportation and a regional point of view, are flawed because they fail to attack the problem, which is traffic, not growth per se."

A less visible problem is water, its availability and quality.

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