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Panel OKs Stringent Ride-Sharing Program : Orange County Can Claim Exemption--If It Can Come Up With a Plan as Tough as Air Board's

December 12, 1987|LARRY B. STAMMER and NANCY WRIDE | Times Staff Writers

The most comprehensive ride-sharing program ever proposed for Southern California, affecting 8,000 businesses and 1.5 million commuters, was unanimously approved Friday by the South Coast Air Quality Management District board.

Morning commute traffic could be cut by up to 25% in the four-county South Coast Air Basin under terms of the regulation, which is the first in a series of new clean-air strategies to roll back air pollution in the nation's smoggiest urban area.

But Orange County won the right to be exempted from the program if businesses and local agencies adopt substitute plans that are deemed as tough as those approved by the AQMD on Friday.

A possible alternative plan known as the Traffic Reduction Incentives Program, drafted by the Orange County Transportation Commission, calls for voluntary participation based on peer pressure within the business community. Staggered work hours and incentives are its key components, OCTC officials said.

Got What They Wanted

"We wanted to make sure that we can come in for an exemption, and the local governments and employers here who participate (in the substitute program) would be able to fall into our program," said Lisa Mills, the OCTC's manager of planning and programming, who argued successfully at the AQMD meeting for allowing local agencies having the ability to substitute programs.

"And that's what we got."

Orange County cities are not expected to get a chance to inspect elements of the proposal, which the OCTC has been working on for a year, until January, Mills said.

Local agencies have until July 1, 1988, to either adopt their own ordinances--most likely the OCTC program--or accept the AQMD's ride-sharing program.

"Our proposal is to get all the cities to adopt (the Traffic Reduction Incentive Program) by June of 1988," Mills said.

Emissions of carbon monoxide and the two main ingredients of photochemical smog--nitrogen oxides and hydrocarbons--would see modest reductions. Still, those reductions were viewed Friday by state and federal regulators as essential if progress is to be made in cleaning up the air.

The vote, after a day of testimony, was in marked contrast to the board's defeat of a less-stringent ride-sharing program two years ago and signaled what many said is the beginning of major changes in how automobile-conscious Southern Californians get to work.

"I think this is going to signal the beginning in a change in life styles," AQMD board member Marvin Braude, a Los Angeles city councilman, said after the vote.

AQMD Board Chairman Norton Younglove, a Riverside County supervisor, said: "To me, we're taking a first, and very important major step, in more directly involving people in an individual way in solutions to clean up our air."

Braude said he would move to scrap Los Angeles' recently approved city ride-sharing program "as soon as practical (because the AQMD plan is) far more stringent."

Businesses with 100 or more employees will be required to offer incentives to employees to share rides or use public transit to meet the district's goal of increasing the average ridership in vehicles to 1.5 people from the current 1.13 people--an achievement that would result in 740,000 fewer daily vehicle trips between home and office.

Failure to prepare and implement ride-sharing plans will carry a fine of at least $1,000 a day. The AQMD staff is reviewing state law to determine whether fines could go as high as $25,000 a day. However, companies that make a "good faith" effort to comply with the regulation but fail to meet the district's ridership goals would not be penalized.

Businesses would be required to review and update their plans annually. The district plans to hire six to nine more workers to put the ride-sharing program into effect.

Clean-Air Advocates

Friday's vote ended a long drive by clean-air advocates to win approval of a ride-sharing program.

As recently as this week, AQMD board member Larry L. Berg said, several companies told him that they did not believe that the district would impose such a regulation.

"I hope the message that comes through today is these are tough decisions. They're costly and we've got to do it," Berg said.

But Berg predicted problems in implementing the plan, and board member Thomas Heinsheimer said that talk of changes in life style "really depends on how seriously the new board takes the regulation."

One board member who voted against ride-sharing in 1985 on Friday hailed the new regulation. "This is significant. It's going to make a difference," Orange County Supervisor Harriett M. Wieder said.

Asked what caused her to change her mind, she said simply: "I've never been for government control. . . . But there's a time to follow and a time to lead."

'Political Resistance'

Sabrina Schiller, one of the most outspoken clean-air advocates on the board, said: "The political resistance on our board was broken down. The fact that the public spoke out is what broke down the political resistance."

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