Declaring there would be "no deals," sponsors of the slow-growth initiative Saturday rejected attempts to jump-start negotiations with county supervisors and said they will submit 66,000 signatures to qualify their measure for the ballot in June.
Meeting to consider overtures that had been made by intermediaries Wednesday and Thursday, leaders of the initiative campaign said they were partly influenced by a strong desire to keep faith with signature-gatherers and the more than 60,000 people who have already signed petitions.
"We have a moral commitment to thousands of people," said Norm Grossman, a member of Laguna Greenbelt Inc., one of the organizations supporting the initiative.
San Juan Capistrano rancher Tom Rogers, leader of the initiative drive, said its steering committee had found a proposal by former Supervisor Bruce Nestande "unworkable." That proposal was to have served as a starting point for negotiations with the Board of Supervisors.
"I'm very disappointed," said Nestande, now vice president of Costa Mesa-based Arnel Development Co. and a member of the California Transportation Commission. "The hard-core element of the slow-growth movement has prevailed. It was simply not possible to assure those people that they weren't being sold out. Instead of spending the next few months solving the traffic problem, we're all going to waste a lot of human energy and resources on a bitter confrontation."
Initiative supporters, who face a Feb. 9 deadline for submitting the nearly 66,000 signatures needed to place their measure on the June ballot, were stunned when they learned Friday that movement leader Rogers had met with Nestande and each of the five county supervisors in their offices Thursday afternoon.
Although Rogers insisted strongly that he had not accepted any agreement to end the petition drive, he immediately was besieged by worried initiative supporters.
Four of the county's five supervisors said they were unhappy about Saturday's development in the controversy but not surprised. Board Chairman Harriett M. Wieder said: "Frankly, I felt it was too late for them to stop their initiative. I think there was a moral issue involving the people who had signed the petitions, who had a right to see them filed. I wish they had come to us six months ago."
Initiative supporters did seek negotiations with the supervisors last year, but Wieder said she did not recall those efforts. Supervisors Donald R. Roth, Roger R. Stanton and Thomas F. Riley said they had hoped a compromise might be reached. Supervisor Gaddi H. Vasquez was unavailable for comment.
The slow-growth initiative would condition future growth on the ability of local roads and public facilities and services to handle increased demand.
Nestande had proposed a plan last week that would halt the initiative drive. The plan called for the formation of a special citizens committee to study a proposed half-cent sales tax for transportation projects, establishment of a powerful new super agency to coordinate traffic and development decisions, and adoption by the county and all of its 27 cities of a model growth and traffic management ordinance.
It also would have extended to the rest of the county a plan, the so-called Foothill Circulation Phasing Plan, that requires developers to pay for new roads before building.
Nestande has said he discussed the package with several developers and others who had supported it conceptually. Reacting to initiative supporters who described it a developers' plan, Nestande said that Rogers "had put a lot into it too, along with many others. To say it was anything other than a bilateral document would be inaccurate."
Talks between slow-growth advocates and building industry officials Wednesday night had focused on ending special agreements between contractors and the county that protect construction projects from the initiative if it passes.
Initiative supporters said Saturday they had decided that the talks with builders were unlikely to prove successful and never got into specifics. But in a carefully worded, written statement, they said two concepts that had emerged during talks with Nestande and in Wednesday's meeting had value and were "worthy of adoption" by the Board of Supervisors: "an immediate moratorium on all development agreements" and possible formation of a "truly independent growth and transportation task force."
Nestande said he doubted that county officials or developers would negotiate away any development agreements because they are the only vehicle now in place for requiring that new roads be built before construction projects are completed.
Wieder agreed, but said county officials have been studying formation of a new transportation-related agency that might be able to reconcile differences in the development master plans of each city within the county. County staff members have been working on the concept of a so-called Council of Governments that would coordinate transportation and development policies across city boundaries.