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Transit Merger Poses Challenge : Cities Must Go Beyond Parochialism

May 20, 1990

If the "potholes" theory of government is true--that is, that all politics is local--it is also increasingly true that all politics is regional. This is apparent in Orange County, where one city's problems quickly become another's. For example, Harbor Boulevard winds through seven cities from La Habra to Costa Mesa. What one city does--or doesn't do--to move traffic along quickly affects the others.

With this in mind, Orange County and its 29 cities recently came to an agreement to merge the Orange County Transportation Commission, which is in charge of long-term transportation planning, and the Orange County Transit District, which manages the bulk of the county's bus system. Consolidation has been long sought by cities and some county leaders--among them, Supervisors Roger R. Stanton and Thomas F. Riley, who is Transportation Commission chairman, and state Sen. Marian Bergeson (R-Newport Beach)--as a way to eliminate duplication of administrative and lobbying functions and curb infighting.

The actual cost savings may be modest: some say $350,000 in a $300-million-per-year agency. More important, the merger will clarify lines of responsibility at a time when traffic congestion is the major concern of county residents. As Stanton puts it, there's a lot of "buck-passing" under the current setup.

Stanton, Riley and the rest of the board should be praised for removing a major stumbling block to the merger by agreeing to set up a governing board dominated by cities instead of the five supervisors. Because of that agreement, the merger was unanimously approved by the Orange County chapter of the California League of Cities and the way was cleared for legislative approval.

Now it is up to the cities to show they can go beyond parochialism and work together to solve the area's serious and complex transportation problems. Their record on this has been spotty in the past.

Last week, for example, the Stanton City Council voted to keep on-street parking on its section of Beach Boulevard despite its designation as a "super street." Last year, cities tried to scuttle attempts by the Transportation Commission to impose sanctions on cities that fail to live up to agreements on the master plan for arterial highways. Meanwhile, many cities seem fascinated by monorails, which are worthy of study but could address only a tiny portion of the county's pressing transit needs.

Huntington Beach Councilman John Erskine said recently his own council's members "think the transportation problem ends on Beach Boulevard." It doesn't, nor does it end on Harbor, Warner Avenue or any other thoroughfare. The merger is good because it will challenge cities to look at the big picture in Orange County.

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