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May 12, 1988|JOHN O'DELL

He came here only a few years ago, but Sol Bleiweis--born in Poland, a survivor of the Auschwitz death camp and a New Yorker since 1947--considers Orange County his home, personally and professionally.

For a living, Bleiweis, 59, puts clothes on people's backs. He owned his own knitting and textile mill in New York and has worked as a consultant to textile companies all over Europe and in Japan.

For a while after moving to Orange County in 1983, the former professional soccer player worked as director of manufacturing for two different firms in Los Angeles. But the commute from his home in Huntington Beach got to him, so he looked around and hired on as plant manager for Cole of California's Santa Ana facility.

He also moved from Huntington Beach to Mission Viejo. In part, he said, because Huntington Beach was too far away from the freeway system that crisscrosses the county, even if that crisscrossing has to be done at a snail's pace.

Like 52% of the executives responding to The Times' executive outlook survey, Bleiweis--whose 36 years in New York make him no stranger to congestion--said the county's jammed-up traffic and lack of a widely used or usable public transportation system were its worst features.

He's tried to rectify that for his employees by starting the day at 6 a.m. and closing down the plant--where Cole bathing suits are assembled--at 2:30 p.m.

"So you can avoid some of the problem, if you plan well for it," he said.

"Eventually, though, if Orange County is really going to blossom, you're going to have to provide some sort of public transportation. But Californians are so spoiled. They don't want it. They seem to prefer sitting on the freeway in their cars, with a cup of coffee and the stereo on, to sitting in a public bus."

Like 13% of the survey respondents, Bleiweis said he has not made a firm decision about the slow-growth initiative on the June countywide ballot, although he is leaning toward voting against it.

Instead of an initiative aimed at slowing growth, Bleiweis said, politicians and developers "should learn from past mistakes and thoroughly plan things out. We should plan adequate transportation and housing to handle the growth of the population. We need less bureaucratic procrastination and more decision-making."

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