SACRAMENTO — As the deadline for Gov. George Deukmejian to sign or veto bills came and went last week, it was evident that some last-minute maneuvering in the Legislature had saved the Orange County delegation from defeat on several fronts.
Especially in the area of transportation, the delegation ultimately scored high marks despite early indications that the county was going to emerge from the session a clear loser.
Going into the session last January, transportation needs were Orange County's top priority. The county has 20 major highway projects in the works, 12 of which are behind schedule.
Last week, Deukmejian signed several bills affecting transportation in the county that were passed in the closing days of the legislative session.
Toll Roads Approved
One was a bill by Sen. John Seymour (R-Anaheim) authorizing toll roads in Orange County.
County transportation officials already have mapped a 15-mile route from Irvine to San Juan Capistrano through the hills west of the San Diego Freeway as the prime candidate for the first toll road, and construction could begin as soon as 1990. The project would be the first such effort in the state.
Other likely routes include a 17-mile stretch from the Riverside Freeway in Yorba Linda to Interstate 5 in Irvine, known as the Eastern Transportation Corridor, and a 32-mile route, known as the Foothill Corridor, connecting that Eastern Corridor to I-5 in San Clemente.
Seymour said he believed the Orange County delegation had its best performance this session of his five years in the Senate.
"It was a very positive year for the county," Seymour said. "I think we have begun a momentum, and now we have to keep pushing that ball."
Sen. Marian Bergeson (R-Newport Beach) pushed through a bill that will allow the county to initiate new highway construction and seek reimbursement later by the state or federal government. Because hangups in the timing of state and federal financing have caused frequent delays in highway projects, the legislation was seen as critical for Orange County.
However, Bergeson was unable to win passage for legislation that would have allowed Caltrans to contract with private firms for some engineering and design work on highway construction projects. Bergeson said that bill also would have helped cut down on costly delays.
The bill sailed through the Senate but bogged down in the Assembly when Speaker Willie Brown (D-San Francisco) added amendments requiring 15% of the contracts to be awarded to minority businesses and another 5% to businesses owned by women. At that point, the Orange County delegation refused to support the bill.
However, Bergeson expects to renew action on the measure as soon as the Legislature returns to Sacramento in January.
'Good Job' for County
"We did a good job for the county," Bergeson said. "We would lose out if we couldn't get the contracting-out bill. But the bill is sitting there. It's not dead. It's very much alive."
The problem is that, even if Bergeson's bill passed early in the next session, it would not take effect until Jan. 1, 1989. Another critical year would contribute to further delays.
Bergeson can try to get the bill passed as an emergency measure, which would make it effective earlier, but that would require approval by two-thirds of the Legislature.
"I'm not optimistic we can accomplish that because there will be some opposition to the bill," she said.
Bergeson, who is considered a strong contender for the state treasurer's position left vacant by the death of Jesse Unruh on Aug. 3., said the bill would be carried by someone else if she is no longer in the Senate in January.
Stan Oftelie, executive director of the Orange County Transportation Commission, said the county was a clear winner with transportation-related legislation this year.
"We had an exceptionally ambitious program, and we did very well," he said.
Oftelie conceded that Bergeson's contracting bill was a crucial measure, but he agreed out that it would still be around next session.
'Milestone for Us'
"The toll road bill is a tremendous milestone for us," he said. "We will move quickly on that. That was the watershed for this year."
Another long-term victory for the county was getting the state to provide it with its own Department of Transportation district office, severing the county's ties to the Los Angeles Caltrans office.
After Assemblyman Ross Johnson (R-La Habra) introduced a bill early in the session creating the office, Deukmejian bowed to pressure from politicians and business leaders and created the new office in April.
Last week, the governor signed legislation by Johnson that provided $4.1 million to staff the new Caltrans district office with 600 employees, many of whom will transfer from the Los Angeles office.
Sen. Ed Royce (R-Anaheim) said that severing ties to the Los Angeles Caltrans district office will allow Orange County top priority on new highway projects.