An Orange County transit advocate has launched a petition effort to preserve the CenterLine light-rail project, which could be dealt a serious, if not fatal, blow by a pending ballot measure that would eliminate rail altogether in Irvine.
The anti-rail initiative, which the Irvine City Council has agreed to put before voters by June 30, would block construction of the $1.1-billion line through Irvine and strip all references to light rail from the general plan, the city's main planning document.
That measure "says no to rail anywhere in Irvine," said Sarah L. Catz, who lives in the city and has been a strong supporter of CenterLine, now a proposed 11-mile light-rail project that was cut from 18 miles because of opposition from some Irvine residents.
"That is an injustice to the citizens of Irvine and everyone else in Orange County," Catz said.
Catz, an attorney and past board member of the Orange County Transportation Authority, notified Irvine City Hall this week of her intention to qualify a pro-CenterLine measure for a special citywide election.
Her initiative would ask Irvine voters to support CenterLine as it is now planned, including the alignment through the western tip of the city. Catz's proposal also would require voter approval of any expansion or route changes for the proposed light-rail system within the city limits.
As envisioned by OCTA, the CenterLine route through Irvine runs from UC Irvine to John Wayne Airport via the Irvine Business Complex. It then proceeds to the South Coast Plaza area and heads north on Bristol Street to the Santa Ana Civic Center before ending at the Santa Ana train station.
"The project is the biggest boondoggle," said John Kleinpeter, who heads Fund Alternatives Instead of Rail Transit, which proposed the measure to ban rail from the city. "With all the budget crises going on, it would benefit everyone to stop spending money on CenterLine."
In September, the Irvine City Council, facing neighborhood opposition and an anti-rail petition drive, agreed to place the Kleinpeter group's measure on the ballot and hold a special election by the end of June.
The date has not been scheduled, but city officials say it probably will be June 3.
At the same meeting, council members decided they would put a competing measure on the ballot that would support the planned alignment and give voters the chance to vote on future extensions.
But so far, no such measure has been drafted. They also decided to remove a planned transit corridor through Oak Creek, Westpark and Woodbridge, three neighborhoods opposed to CenterLine.
Catz said Thursday she hopes that the council, which has supported CenterLine, will put her proposed initiative on the ballot.
"My proposal is similar to the city's, but I have not seen anything out of the city yet and I want to make sure this gets done," Catz said. "I am offering this as their measure. I have taken everything the city has wanted into account."
Councilwoman Beth Krom has requested that the council discuss Catz's initiative at Tuesday's meeting.
Krom said she would like to get it on the ballot if it is consistent with the council's September decisions.
"This might be Sarah's way of nudging the council or holding our feet to the fire to make sure there are ballot choices," said Irvine Mayor Larry Agran, who added that he has not seen Catz's proposal. "If it is consistent with what we want, it could save some work for us."