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A Feeling of Helplessness Led to Support

February 09, 1988|A. DAHLEEN GLANTON | Times Staff Writer

Alice Lewis admits she hasn't kept up with all the issues concerning the slow-growth initiative. But the Laguna Hills resident says she doesn't have to look much further than her own back yard to see the toll that growth and development has taken on her neighborhood.

Lewis, 64, said she feels the Board of Supervisors has turned a deaf ear on residents' concerns about growth, leaving them helpless to fight wealthy developers who use their pocketbooks to win favoritism from county government.

Many other Orange County residents feel the same way. In a poll conducted for The Times by Mark Baldassare & Associates, 58% of the respondents said the Board of Supervisors represents the interests of developers, not residents, on the issue of growth.

The Orange County Poll published Sunday also showed that 72% of the 600 residents questioned by telephone last week favored the 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.

Supervisors said the poll results were prompted by a lack of public awareness. Board Chairman Harriett M. Wieder said Sunday that the board is a traditional "scapegoat" because the public is not aware of its actions to relieve traffic congestion. She said the public incorrectly assumes that developers who contribute heavily to the supervisors' reelection campaigns have greater access to county officials.

Proof of Neglect

In interviews Monday, poll respondents who believe supervisors represent the interests of developers said they are all too aware of the impact of growth. They said the traffic situation was proof that the board has not done enough to relieve congestion, and many pointed to situations in their own neighborhoods as evidence.

"When you live in Orange County, you can't help but notice it's growing too fast, and the government is not as concerned about the effects on the general population. If they were, things wouldn't be in the state they are now," said Charles Bouley, 25, of Huntington Beach.

"I used to have lots of strawberry fields around me. Not anymore, I have condos. Of course (the supervisors) would say they are doing good for Orange County."

Robert Burnett, 39, said he is concerned that the level of public services has not kept pace with the new developments. He is worried about the level of fire and police services, as well as traffic problems.

"The area that bothers me most is the inability to drive from one area to the next. It's so difficult to get around in private transportation, and public transportation hasn't been upgraded either," Burnett said. "Sooner or later, somebody will have to pay for it. And it probably will have to come sooner. If we don't do something to upgrade or limit growth, we will be like New York."

Effects of Development

Deborah Adent, 27, of Laguna Niguel, said residents there feel the effects of development every day, when it takes two or three hours for a trip that should require only 45 minutes.

"Money talks, and developers have money. (Supervisors) are not interested in what people want. People are saying they don't want any more buildings. As of right now, there is so much traffic that the freeways can't take any more. From 7 a.m. to 9 p.m., the freeways are just jammed. It's bumper to bumper. The developers, because they have money, are the ones who pull the weight, not the people," she said.

"I don't believe (the supervisors) are scapegoats. They are voted into office to do what people want, and they are not doing that. So maybe it's time to vote them out."

Supervisor Don R. Roth said supervisors are sensitive to the residents, but it is difficult to take care of all the needs.

'Best We Can'

"We've done the best we can with the amount of dollars we have to operate with," Roth said. "I would love to do more, but we are limited.

"Some of the same people complaining also have indicated in other polls that they would not support any type of sales tax or gas tax increase or anything else. So that makes it difficult."

Supervisor Thomas F. Riley said the supervisors have had to deal with some very emotional issues, but he doubts that everyone understands the reasons the supervisors have approved some projects and the benefits that will come from them.

"No sane person enjoys being criticized, particularly when it implies something less than fairness and integrity. I suppose it's the good old American attitude, and I hope it doesn't change, that you want your side to win. The sad thing is the implication that the board is being less than honest."

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