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LOOKING TO 1991 : The New Year Promises Tremendous Progress, Frustrating Setbacks and Daunting Challenges for Orange County. There is Transportation Money Aplenty, but Social Service Agencies Could Go Begging. Strides are Expected on the Environmental Front, but Educators will have to do more with less and fight for every Dollar from the State.

December 31, 1990|JIM NEWTON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

After a year highlighted by a series of development battles, 1991 opens with the county housing market on the skids. As a result, those issues may recede in the coming year. Tranquility will come at a price, however: Fewer new homes means fewer housing permits and fewer new taxpayers at a time when local governments are desperate for money.

Hardest hit will be the county's growing underclass. Health services for poor people were cut in 1990, and will likely be hit harder in 1991. Demand, however, will soar. The slowing economy brings a host of problems, all of which cost money to treat: Unemployment means more workers seeking welfare, more families requesting Aid to Families with Dependent Children, more homeless people in dire need of shelter.

In addition to its other budget woes, the county Board of Supervisors must tackle the politically explosive question of acquiring land for a new jail, most likely in Gypsum Canyon near Anaheim.

Environmentalists and educators will have battles of their own. Toxic waste dumpers will get a tougher look from the Orange County district attorney, and a local school district is joining others across the state in taking the case for more state funding to court.

Yet, while some services struggle to get by, others will suffer from an embarrassment of riches: Barring a court challenge, the new county half-cent tax for transportation goes into effect on April 1, and new road construction will not be far behind.

And even as local leaders chart the county's course through a rough-and-tumble year, the 1990 census will provide a new snapshot of who we are. The census will confirm the county's explosive growth during the past decade, paving the way for a new congressional seat and rejiggered supervisorial districts. But it will probably also reveal an increasingly diverse and complex county, one where poverty and unemployment have found a foothold in a land long known for its affluence.

With all those issues coming together at once, 1991 promises to be a daunting one for the County Board of Supervisors. And at the same time that the board prepares to unravel its myriad budget and social problems, a political storm is quietly gathering as well. After nine years of relative tranquility, the new census findings will bring the return of reapportionment, the once-a-decade process of trimming territory from fast-growing supervisorial districts and tacking it on the slower-growing ones.

That means that Supervisors Thomas F. Riley and Gaddi H. Vasquez, whose districts cover the booming areas of south and east Orange County, will each lose turf. Supervisors Don R. Roth, Roger R. Stanton and Harriett M. Wieder will pick up ground because their districts have grown more slowly since the 1980 census.

Although the board represents residents of the whole county, supervisors are elected by their individual districts, and fussing with the boundaries is sure to stir political rivalries. While redistricting is unlikely to affect many significant policy matters, it will make a difference to constituents seeking their supervisor's help.

Costa Mesa residents, for instance, may soon find that Riley is no longer their voice on the board. In order to balance out the growth in Riley's district, that city may wind up with Stanton or Wieder, or perhaps split between them.

If it were just a mathematical equation, redistricting would be complicated but relatively uncontroversial. But it is not.

"I would like to think we could do this pretty quickly," Riley said. "But the last time, we did have some challenges, and I expect we will again."

Supervisors traditionally use reapportionment as an opportunity to strengthen their political base, carving out precincts that they have struggled to carry in exchange for areas where their support may be stronger.

At the center of that shuffling in 1991 will be Vasquez, who takes over as the board's new chairman in January. Vasquez has indicated to some of his colleagues that he would like to shift his district northward, dropping some South County precinc That would surprise few obserdistrict has caused him problems.

In 1990, for instance, some Vasquez constituents in Lake Forest expressed dismay at the supervisor's continued opposition to a new jail in Gypsum Canyon. Vasquez's north county constituents applaud that position of keeping a new jail away from them, but building the Gypsum Canyon facility would allow the county to close the James A. Musick Branch Jail near Lake Forest. It's an issue that pits one half of his district against the other--a nettlesome problem, but one that reapportionment may offer the opportunity to resolve.

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