Orange County supervisors blamed lack of public awareness for the results of the Orange County Poll released Sunday in which 58% of the respondents said the Board of Supervisors represents the interests of developers, not citizens.
Board Chairman Harriett M. Wieder said the public incorrectly assumes that developers who contribute heavily to the supervisors' reelection campaigns have greater access to county officials.
"The access does not have to be bought," she said. "The access is there."
The board is a traditional "scapegoat," Wieder said. Because the public is not aware of actions taken by the supervisors to relieve traffic congestion, the board is viewed as lacking leadership and siding with developers, she said.
"It's not that we're not doing something," she said. "It's the rate of speed."
Supervisor Roger R. Stanton said the public perceives an unbalanced relationship with developers because "there is a natural skepticism of officeholders, period. That doesn't mean it's true."
The Orange County Poll, published Sunday, showed that only 16% of the 600 respondents believe the supervisors represent the interests of citizens. Conducted by Mark Baldassare and Associates, the survey also showed that respondents overwhelmingly support the controversial Citizens' Sensible Growth and Traffic Control Initiative, which would condition future growth on the ability of local roads and public services to handle increased workloads.
The poll's possible margin of error was 4 percentage points, up or down.
Initiative supporters face a Tuesday deadline for filing at least 66,000 signatures, the number needed to place the measure on the countywide ballot in June.
Technical Aspects of Plans
Reacting to the poll, supervisors said Sunday that their plans for dealing with growth and traffic congestion are technical and difficult to understand and may be little known to the public because new roads, freeway lanes and other projects are not finished, and restrictive growth policies can't be seen, unlike new houses and office towers.
The result: When commuters are gridlocked on Orange County's freeways and local streets, people will blame the government for their frustration, the supervisors believe.
"I think you need to blame somebody, and the best person is the politicians," Supervisor Don R. Roth said. "Who are you going to blame? You're not going to blame your wife or six kids, who all have cars.
"We are all very frustrated," Roth said. "The 1.6 million people with registered cars (in Orange County) are not all politicians."
In the past week, Wieder and Supervisor Gaddi H. Vasquez have announced growth management plans of their own. Wieder's would set up development quotas for each community separately. Vasquez's plan would cap development at 1.9% annually and would require developers to pay for roads to accommodate growth generated by their construction projects.
The supervisors are considering whether to place a growth plan of their own on the ballot as a rival measure to the slow-growth initiative.
But Baldassare, who conducted the Orange County Poll, said the results show that the public's negative attitude toward the supervisors might undercut their own ballot measure.
"With such a prevalent view of the supervisors as 'tainted,' the board may have limited credibility on growth issues," Baldassare said. "Supervisors would have difficulty convincing the public that ballot measures, ordinances or compromise solutions they offer are on behalf of citizens' interests."
The supervisors said Sunday that they were not surprised by the poll results.
"It's the nature of the beast," Supervisor Thomas F. Riley said. "Admonishment of public officials is more invoked today. I think people are taking a more active role, and vocal interest, in what's happening."
Stanton said he did not believe the initiative was a response to the county's lack of direction because it is a reaction that is common nationwide, regardless of what a government does to correct problems.
"The initiative, which is as American as apple pie, is something that has appeal," he said. "(But) there is a limit in what government can do."
Vasquez was unavailable for comment Sunday.