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ORANGE COUNTY PERSPECTIVE

2 Counties Must Cooperate

November 03, 2002

Orange County never has been comfortable in the shadow of its big neighbor to the north. There's long been a desire to look inward and find, at heart, an independent county -- a cause the Anaheim Angels championed by correcting geographically challenged Giants fans who came to town chanting "Beat L.A.!"

Now the county is coming to grips with another neighbor, Riverside County, and pondering an "us versus them" relationship spun off by a critical imbalance of jobs being created in this county and the supply of affordable housing springing up in Riverside.

The situation is painfully evident to Riverside residents who travel the already-jammed Riverside Freeway and the increasingly busy Ortega Highway to get to and from jobs in Orange County. We all know secretaries, office managers, teachers and laborers who make the dreaded round trip with fingers crossed to ward off SigAlerts.

And the imbalance will grow worse during the next two decades, according to a report issued in October by the Orange County Transportation Authority and the Riverside County Transportation Commission. The problem is that Orange County won't meet projected employment needs without attracting residents who live in Riverside's lower-cost housing.

The upshot is that neither county can afford to ignore frustrating delays on the Riverside Freeway and increased traffic on the narrow, winding Ortega Highway that stretches from San Juan Capistrano through the Cleveland National Forest to Lake Elsinore.

At some point, the study concludes, the counties must improve the flow of traffic or risk stalling the regional economy. That's the impetus behind proposals to build a second highway alongside the Riverside Freeway and tunneling through the Santa Ana Mountains.

Based on the numbers -- 58 counties, 476 cities and nearly 5,000 special districts -- Californians love government. But regional issues clearly demand more cooperation. The nonprofit California Center for Regional Leadership recently put it this way: When it comes to managing economic growth and the quality of life, "decisions are best made at the regional level, and state policies and practices should be reformed and aligned to support better decisions for improved regional outcomes."

That's a long-winded way of saying that Orange and Riverside counties must work together to ensure that goods, services and people travel freely between them so the regional economy can continue to grow. The two counties have fences to mend. Riverside County unsuccessfully sued several years ago to open private toll road lanes on the Riverside Freeway. The report issued earlier this month is one sign that that mending is underway.

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