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Petition Drives for Slow-Growth Measure Not Quick to Catch On

December 21, 1987|JEFFREY A. PERLMAN | Times Urban Affairs Writer

In San Juan Capistrano, a key activist who collected signatures on behalf of a citywide slow-growth initiative is refusing to turn them in.

In Santa Ana, activists are fighting among themselves over whether to participate in a slow-growth petition drive.

And in south Orange County, thousands of petition signatures have had to be collected a second time because of clerical errors.

With the deadline for submitting signatures less than two months away, leaders of the movement to get a slow-growth initiative on the June, 1988, ballot concede that their petition drive is encountering difficulties. Bad weather and an expected holiday slowdown in volunteers' signature-gathering activities have left advocates of the initiative depending on a major, last-minute, direct-mail campaign to pull the effort out of the fire.

"We're going to do a lot more mail than we had planned," said Russ Burkett, a leader of the petition drive. "Time is running out."

Already, more than 150,000 brochures and copies of the petition--along with stamped, pre-addressed envelopes--have been mailed to south Orange County residents, and thousands more have arrived at mailboxes in Newport Beach and Costa Mesa. Mailings are being planned for other cities, including Huntington Beach and Cypress, as well.

The deadline for submitting petition signatures is Feb. 9 to get the Sensible Growth and Traffic Control initiative on the June ballot, and 66,000 of them are needed to secure a countywide vote. Thousands more are needed to put similar measures on the ballot in each of the county's cities.

Without the citywide initiatives, the measure's restrictions would apply only to unincorporated areas. Voters in each city may see two nearly identical measures on their local ballot--one for the county and one for the city--and they are legally entitled to vote on both.

Although Burkett and Tom Rogers, the other front-line leader in the effort to get the slow-growth measure on the ballot, said they are confident of ultimate success in the countywide signature-gathering effort, they expect trouble. They said they have at least 40,000 signatures so far countywide, but with less than two months remaining, Rogers said, "it will be close."

Burkett and Rogers pointed out that if they don't meet the Feb. 9 deadline, they can continue to gather signatures another 30 days in an effort to make the November, 1988, ballot.

They acknowledged that signature-gathering efforts in the county's individual cities are doing well in only a few, including San Juan Capistrano, San Clemente, Costa Mesa and Huntington Beach. They said the absence of home-grown slow-growth organizations has crippled efforts on behalf of municipal measures in Santa Ana, Garden Grove and Anaheim, and for now they have written those cities off.

"We'll just keep picking off cities one by one if we have to," said Rogers, a San Juan Capistrano rancher. "We're not going to go into a city where we'd get clobbered right now, and that's no problem as far as I'm concerned."

The petitions being circulated outline measures--varying slightly from city to city--that would condition future growth on adherence to strict traffic standards, public safety service levels and the availability of parks and other public facilities.

Advocates of the measures contend they do little more than codify existing development and traffic policies that have never been enforced by local governments. But critics say they would be costly to implement and would put people out of work.

With the measure's most vocal supporters conceding that in some cities it is unlikely that the initiative will be on the ballot next year, there is widespread speculation about whether developers will rush to take advantage of opportunities in those areas.

John Erskine, executive director of the Building Industry Assn.'s Orange County chapter, and some developers, such as Jim McCormack, say there will be an exodus from areas controlled by slow-growth ordinances.

But others, including Ray Catalano, professor of social ecology at UC Irvine and an Irvine city councilman, strongly disagree.

"The developers will still have to see what the return on their investment will be," Catalano said, "and it's not clear that in Garden Grove or some of the other cities the return will be so much greater that it would cause all developers to change their plans."

No Organized Campaign

Burkett said a Garden Grove councilman interested in circulating slow-growth petitions had complained recently that there were "no activists in town" willing to help out.

In Santa Ana, a local slow-growth advocate invited Burkett to address her organization--Santa Ana Merged Society of Neighbors (SAMSON)--but at the appointed hour she didn't show up and Burkett experienced what he says was "the worst night I've had so far."

Nobody could agree on anything at the meeting, he said, and so--even though people are circulating petitions--there is no organized campaign in Santa Ana.

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