SACRAMENTO — In a victory for businesses that are angry over strict smog rules, Gov. Pete Wilson signed a bill Tuesday that could lead to the ouster of Orange County's influential representative on the Southern California air quality management board.
Wilson's approval of the measure ensures that Yorba Linda Councilman Henry Wedaa, a political moderate, will face a tough fight against conservatives in Orange County to retain his post on the South Coast Air Quality Management District board.
Boosters praise Wedaa's six-year tenure, saluting his willingness as chairman of the AQMD to push balky businesses to clean up. But opponents, particularly Orange County conservatives, suggest that he is an overzealous bureaucrat helping to drive business out of the region.
"I think it is becoming much clearer to most people (that) this is not a fight about air quality," Wedaa said. "This is a fight about ideology. The fact is I'm a moderate, and the right-wing extremists we have in Orange County don't like that."
State Sen. John R. Lewis (R-Orange), who led the legislative effort to dump the AQMD chairman, said he sees little chance that Wedaa will remain.
Lewis and an ally, Assemblyman Curt Pringle (R-Garden Grove), have been trying to push through legislation to dump Wedaa for the last two years.
After several bills failed, they turned to a new tack in the waning days of this year's legislative session. Earlier this month, they amended a bill by Sen. Tim Leslie (R-Carnelian Bay) making it harder for Wedaa to remain in power.
The amendment requires Wedaa to garner a two-thirds vote from mayors in Orange County representing two-thirds of the cities' population by March 1 or forfeit his post. Under previous AQMD election rules, an incumbent would retain the job unless a challenger managed to get a two-thirds vote, a threshold that Lewis argued gave Wedaa a virtual "appointment for life."
Indeed, when Wedaa's term expired in 1992, Orange County cast six votes, but neither Wedaa nor any challenger got close to garnering the required two-thirds vote.