HUNTINGTON BEACH — In their first major face-off Tuesday, proponents and critics of a Nov. 7 Orange County ballot measure to raise money for traffic improvements blamed each other for failing to adequately respond to the county's current transportation crisis.
"If Measure M fails, Orange County is in deep trouble," Board of Supervisors Chairman Thomas F. Riley warned about the proposal to increase the sales tax from 6 to 6 1/2 cents to raise $3.1 billion for transportation projects over the next 20 years. "The life style in Orange County is second to none. To (maintain) that, Measure M must pass."
"It's a hoax on the public," countered Lester P. Berriman of Drivers for Highway Safety, a group contending that Measure M allocates too much money for new car-pool lanes on freeways instead of regular, mixed-flow lanes. "It (also) gives us transit (buses, trains) . . . Its cost-benefit is just non-existent."
The rare debate, which included several speakers both for and against Measure M, was part of a public television program videotaped at KOCE-TV, Channel 50, in Huntington Beach Tuesday. The program is scheduled for broadcast at 8 p.m. Nov. 1 and again at 9 p.m. Nov. 6. The program, "Taxes Vs. Gridlock? Orange County Transportation Plan," is underwritten by The Times Orange County Edition.
Until now, proponents of Measure M, who have raised more than $800,000 to date, have tried to deny their under-funded critics a free platform by showing up only for forums to which the opposition has not been invited. Measure M critics took advantage of their turn at bat Tuesday, quickly alleging that the projects to be funded with proceeds from the sales tax increase will not solve the county's traffic problems.
For example, Costa Mesa City Councilwoman Sandra L. Genis, who works as a city planner for Newport Beach, said that even if Measure M passes, key interchanges such as the intersection of the San Diego and Santa Ana freeways in Irvine (the "El Toro Y") will be jammed even after millions of dollars are spent to improve them.
And slow-growth advocate Russ Burkett of San Juan Capistrano, who helped defeat a 1-cent sales tax hike for traffic projects in 1984, said Measure M should have focused on one major project, such as the planned widening of the Santa Ana Freeway, and should have been written as a five-year plan instead of a 20-year program.
But Riley, former Supervisor Bruce Nestande and slow-growth advocate Tom Rogers pointed out that the sales tax proposal was written to meet the political requirements of the day, with city councils, developers and environmentalists finally agreeing on a document that each could live with.
"It would be disastrous to have a single (freeway project)," said Nestande, a member of the state Transportation Commission and chairman of Citizens for Yes on Measure M. Without improvements on congested streets, he said, there would be no way to get drivers to the improved freeway project.
Nestande argued that Measure M provides money to improve major roads feeding into county freeways, and additional transit, so that commuters can more easily reach freeways that also would be widened.
Nestande further argued that without a half-cent sales tax for transportation projects, Orange County would have to forgo millions of dollars in state and federal matching funds that will be awarded to counties with such sales taxes, such as San Diego and Riverside.
Rogers, who has split with slow-growth advocates Burkett and Genis over Measure M, pointed out that the Orange County ballot measure requires cities to adopt growth-management plans and establishes a residents' oversight committee to monitor compliance. The proposed state gasoline tax hike that will be on the June, 1990, statewide ballot does not, he noted.
Rogers said these were key reasons for his support of Measure M. In contrast, Rogers opposed a 1984 1-cent sales tax increase for transportation, which was overwhelmingly defeated by 70% to 30%.
Measure M supporters, however, agreed that the sales tax increase for transportation expressly prohibits the oversight committee from deciding the adequacy of growth-management plans, and calls instead for citizens' lawsuits. They said that was necessary to ensure that the growth-management regulations are enforced by elected, rather than appointed, officials.
But, Genis replied: "The (sales tax) plan is growth-inducing," benefitting some developers, such as the Irvine Co., because it includes a Riverside-to-Irvine rail link that will promote an increase in jobs in the Irvine Spectrum business complex and the surrounding area.
People in Riverside would prefer to work in Riverside, not in Irvine, Genis argued.
Measure M's proponents countered that until more jobs are available in Riverside, commuters from the Inland Empire will continue to clog freeways leading into Orange County.
"You can tear apart any plan," said Nestande, who is vice president of Costa Mesa-based Arnel Development Co.
"But to not go out and offer the citizens a balanced transportation network in the long-term future in my mind would be irresponsible . . . There is not a single issue that is more important."