SACRAMENTO — After a relatively quiet 1988, Orange County's legislative agenda for the coming year looks more ambitious, with county officials intending to seek new state laws in the areas of real estate development, flood control, juvenile offenders and regional transportation planning.
The county also will be seeking a budget boost for the Orangewood Children's Home and legislation giving police more power to arrest suspected wife-beaters.
The item holding the most potential for controversy may be a proposal to limit challenges to county-approved agreements with developers so that large-scale commercial and residential projects can go forward without the threat of lawsuits.
This would be accomplished by enacting a statute of limitations for lawsuits challenging development agreements that would give opponents only 90 days to go to court to overturn these long-term compacts between government and builders. A development agreement usually specifies the size and type of project that can be built and binds the developer to build certain public facilities, such as roads, parks and sewers.
Time Limits Sought
Current law is unclear on how much time must elapse before it is no longer possible to challenge such an agreement in court, county officials say. This uncertainty, they say, is making financial backers jittery about investing the huge amounts of money needed to pay for the public facilities they are bound to provide.
"The lack of a statute of limitations always throws into question when, or if ever, someone is going to challenge a development agreement," said Richard Keefe, director of legislative affairs for the county. "This can impact the selling of bonds and the building of the public benefits that these agreements require."
Paula Carrell, Sacramento lobbyist for the Sierra Club, said she will have to study the county's proposal before taking a position on it. But she said she is skeptical of any plan to weaken the ability of citizens to challenge their governments' approval of development.
"I'd have to know whether there is any justification for this," Carrell said. "Development agreements are already so protective of the developers."
Carrell also questioned the need for another county proposal affecting environmental law. This one would give the county more freedom to maintain flood control channels without oversight from the state Fish and Game Department.
The problem, according to Keefe, is that when weeds grow in a channel, animals often follow, using the new habitat as a home. To clear the weeds, he said, requires a permit from state fish and game officials.
"That's absolutely contrary to the whole purpose of having the channel to begin with," Keefe said. "If you build a channel to control floods, you should be able to maintain it to control floods."
But Carrell said the scarcity of wildlife habitat in concrete-filled Southern California might be reason enough for a review by state officials of any decision to destroy animals' homes, even those fashioned from structures built by humans.
"There is precious little area in Southern California for wildlife habitat," she said. "Where some occurs, it needs to receive appropriate protection. It doesn't mean the flood control channel ought not be cleaned out, but if wildlife habitat has emerged and is significant, that merits some assessment."
On another front, the county is planning to seek at least two pieces of legislation concerning juveniles. One would establish a five-county model program for handling seriously emotionally disturbed children who, because of wrongdoing, are in the custody of the County Probation Department.
"These children require considerable amounts of one-on-one supervision," Keefe said. "They do not receive the kind of mental-health treatment they should receive." As a result, he said, they disrupt Juvenile Hall and camps for juvenile offenders, interfering with the county's ability to work with other young inmates.
The county's proposed solution is to join with Los Angeles, Riverside, San Bernardino and San Diego counties to build a separate facility for these children. The 50-bed juvenile center, for youths between the ages of 12 and 18, would cost about $3.5 million a year to operate. The counties would pay part of that amount, and the state would pick up the rest.
"These children would then be receiving the mental health therapy they should be receiving, as well as serving the time they have to serve because of the laws they have broken," Keefe said.
Separated From Parents
The other children's proposal involves youths who have been separated or removed from their parents and are being cared for at the Orangewood Children's Home in Orange.