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Davis' 1-2 Punch Helps O.C.

September 29, 2002

Gov. Gray Davis showed good sense this month by signing a bill that allows the Orange County Transportation Authority to eliminate the stranglehold that a private toll road operator has on proposals that would ease gridlock on the Riverside Freeway. During a mad dash to deal with more than 1,000 bills passed by the state Legislature, Davis managed to exhibit common sense while refusing to sign another bill that would have erected a life support system for the last-gasp attempt being made to keep the El Toro airport plan alive.

Davis' signature on AB 1010 clears the way for OCTA to buy the privately owned and operated 91 Express Lanes. The bill also allows the authority to collect tolls that will be used to pay for the lanes and retire toll road debt.

But, more important, OCTA now has the ability to eliminate an infuriating non-competition clause that prohibits state and local governments from making needed improvements to public lanes on the heavily used freeway.

Not signing AB 1010 would have been a mistake. Davis, who seemed concerned about attaching his name to legislation associated with private toll roads, thankfully listened to bill sponsor Assemblyman Lou Correa (D-Anaheim), who accurately described AB 1010 as "a local solution to a local problem."

The Riverside Freeway is broken. Just ask any motorist caught in the daily traffic jams on the heavily traveled section of highway that links Orange and Riverside counties. But $1.6 billion in proposed improvements that could help to free up traffic jams are being stymied because the private company that runs the toll lanes is protected by a clause that prohibits improvements on public lanes that might lure motorists from the for-profit lanes.

Unlike AB 1010, which clearly promises good things for Southern California motorists, AB 2333 was nothing more than a heavy-handed attempt to pump new life into the proposed airport at El Toro.

It's time for park opponents to join Correa, a longtime airport advocate who urged Davis not to sign the bill because, "at this point, we need to move on and bring some utility to this base."

Supporters of AB 2333 had hoped to force Orange County to provide its fair share of future airport capacity by turning El Toro into a commercial airport. The bill would have punished the county for its failure to create a commercial airport by threatening a cut in aviation funding. Davis, though, saw the bill for what it was: outsiders trying to tell a county what to do.

Davis' decision not to sign AB 2333 came two days after a Los Angeles judge threw out a challenge to the parks plan that voters had approved in March. News of the judge's ruling, coupled with Davis' decision, sparked observations that the long-running airport debate finally is over.

Ten years of constant haggling over the fate of the closed base clearly is enough. Let's hope that remaining holdouts get the message that the war over El Toro is over.

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