Measure A, the Citizens' Sensible Growth and Traffic Control Initiative, is as controversial and emotional an issue as it is confusing. Because of some imprecise wording and conflicting interpretations, few if any Orange County residents will be really sure what their vote will accomplish--no matter how they mark their ballot--on June 7.
Neither the ballot analysis nor the auditor's impact statement in the voter information pamphlet helps. The official "impartial analysis" is full of weasel phrases like: "although it is not clear," "would apparently," and ". . . is impossible to predict with any certainty." The auditor's report notes a ". . . wide diversity of opinion regarding its merits" and "difficulty in analyzing its fiscal impact."
Everyone agrees on the goal of better-managed growth for Orange County. No one who has tried to move a vehicle through its clogged streets could but be in sympathy with them. Sensible regulation of growth to maintain environmental quality and ease traffic congestion should guide every policy decision in Orange County governments. Common sense should have come in the routine performance of duty, not in response to a public so frustrated by traffic congestion that it finally took to the streets to gather enough signatures to enact its own land-use planning law.
Historically, initiatives arise from government inaction and voter disappointment. The so-called slow-growth measure is no different. It is the illegitimate child of a too-cozy relationship between developers and public officials. Be that as it may, the real question before Orange County voters is whether the measure is the best way to solve the complex problems of growth. For several reasons we think the so-called sensible growth initiative is the wrong vehicle for the county's road ills.
Traffic is a regional problem that cannot be confined to city and county boundary lines. Although Measure A is being voted on by all residents, it applies only to the county's unincorporated areas. Similar initiatives, Measures E and F, are on the June ballot in San Clemente and Seal Beach, and four more cities will vote on the issue in November. But if all the growth and traffic initiatives were to pass, that still would leave 21 cities without controls, and the likelihood is that growth in cities without the measure's restrictions would be generating traffic through cities that approved controls.
Using the initiative process for local land-use planning is a poor approach. It is too inflexible and can only be changed by another election, which is costly, time-consuming and unnecessary.
There are other problems with the measure. There is the uncertainty of what the initiative might do to the financing, timetable and toll charges involved in the construction of three new transportation corridors now in the planning stages. And initiative authors did not include an exemption for lower-cost housing, an omission that will hurt many people, young and old, first-time home buyers and middle-income people. That is a critical flaw.
Home prices in Orange County are among the highest, and fastest growing, in the state and nation. Less than one of every four Orange County residents can afford housing on the current market; it now takes an annual income of about $55,000 to qualify to buy a home. And if fewer homes are built and existing homes increase in value because of slow-growth laws, as opponents of Measure A insist will be the case, more people will be priced out of the housing market.
Those higher home prices also could promote some of the additional traffic congestion the initiative is trying to avoid by forcing workers to live in Riverside, San Bernardino and San Diego counties and commute to their jobs here. It is estimated that more than 150,000 motorists already make that commute each day.
Despite the uncertainties of Measures A, E and F, and the almost certain legal challenge they face if approved, some people will vote yes out of strong self-interest; their property values will increase--and in the gangplank approach: the desire of the last person in to be the last person in.
Others may vote for Measure A to send a message to their elected officials that they no longer will tolerate carte blanche approval of building projects and the cozy relationship that developers have enjoyed with local officials. The initiative, by merely qualifying for the ballot, has sent the message that business as usual will no longer be tolerated in the county supervisors' board room and in city council chambers. No elected official dares ignore it, no matter how the June 7 voting comes out. If they do, residents can, and should, turn to the referendum, or the courts, as they did in Costa Mesa. Or vote the officials out, as they have elsewhere.