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CenterLine Won't Be on Recall Ballot

Supervisors decline to seek an Oct. 7 straw vote on the light-rail project. Supporters say a vote would have put talks for federal funding at risk.

August 06, 2003|Jean O. Pasco | Times Staff Writer

Orange County supervisors on Tuesday rejected the idea of asking voters whether they approve of the CenterLine light-rail project, a move supporters said would have jeopardized negotiations for federal funding.

Supervisor Chris Norby had suggested a CenterLine straw vote on the Oct. 7 recall ballot. Norby, who opposes the project, said a favorable vote would "silence most of the critics, including me."

But, several speakers at the board's meeting insisted that the prospect of a vote would have killed chances of keeping funding for the project on target in the federal budget, which takes effect Oct. 1.

"There's a lot of scrutiny and a lot of people playing politics to get their projects funded and not funding other people's projects," Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-Santa Ana) said. "It's always easy to turn back federal funds, but it's never easy to get back our place in line."

It could be another six years before money would be available if the project weren't funded this year, said Arthur Leahy, executive director of the Orange County Transportation Authority, the agency planning to build the $1-billion light-rail system using federal, state and local funds. The local money would come from voter-approved Measure M in 1990.

Supporters should have welcomed a vote, Norby said after he managed to persuade only Supervisor Bill Campbell to support the ballot question. Supervisor Tom Wilson cast the deciding "no" vote but didn't comment on his reasons.

Norby predicted that the project would "limp along" with questions about funding and its disappearing route, which shrank last month for the fourth time to 8 miles after Irvine voters rejected city participation in the project.

The line was once envisioned to stretch 28 miles.

Leahy said federal financing had been approved and would stay on track without a divisive political campaign against the project. An environmental impact report is expected to be completed by early fall.

"This allows us to continue," he said.

Several speakers chided supervisors for getting involved in the issue, accusing members of meddling in the business of OCTA, a separate state-authorized agency. Norby and Campbell, who sit on the OCTA board, have opposed CenterLine on that panel.

Last month, the transportation board voted 9 to 2 to continue with planning for an 8-mile line between John Wayne Airport and the Santa Ana Transportation Center. The same arguments that swayed a majority of transportation board members were reiterated Tuesday for supervisors by 19 people supporting the project.

Among the arguments: Students at Santa Ana College, working-class people and senior citizens on retirement incomes need other forms of transportation than cars; expanding freeways won't accommodate all the county's future traffic needs; and voters approved the light-rail project 13 years ago when they voted for Measure M.

The latter argument prompted a sharp response from Norby, who reminded the audience that some of the same people who favor CenterLine also argued in favor of voting repeatedly on whether a commercial airport should be built at the former El Toro Marine base despite an initial 1994 vote approving the plan. After three subsequent votes, the airport was defeated last year.

About half a dozen speakers criticized the project, saying it would bleed riders and money from the bus system, not unclog freeways.

"If the people want CenterLine," Anaheim City Councilman Tom Tait said in supporting an Oct. 7 vote, "I will fold my tent and shut up."

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