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Tension Marks Bill to Enlarge O.C. Board

Now up to the governor, the transportation panel's makeup would give cities more clout.

August 31, 2004|Jean O. Pasco | Times Staff Writer

A bill to greatly expand city membership on the board of the Orange County Transportation Authority, now awaiting the governor's signature, would boost the clout of large cities while deflating decades of dominance by county leaders.

Orange County's largest cities would be guaranteed a seat on the expanded board, a change that could have a profound impact on how millions of dollars in transportation funds are spent.

The authority's board will swell from 11 -- four county supervisors, six city representatives and a public member -- to 17 members if the bill is signed. The new board would have 10 city representatives -- two from each of the five supervisorial districts, one of the two chosen at large and the other from the district's largest city -- plus all five members of the Board of Supervisors and two members from the public.

The bill was written by Assemblyman Lou Correa (D-Santa Ana), who is running for county supervisor in the Nov. 2 election. Correa was lobbied by the mayors of three of the largest Orange County cities: Santa Ana, Anaheim and Huntington Beach, the last of which has never been represented on the OCTA board.

"We need a board that represents today's Orange County," Correa said.

A larger board "ensures proper equity and representation on our county's transportation issues," said Anaheim Mayor Curt Pringle. He heads a key committee of the county chapter of the League of California Cities that selects future OCTA panel members.

The Transportation Authority was created in 1977 as the Orange County Transportation Commission, to set policies and approve regional projects. In 1991, it was expanded to include more board members and assumed responsibility for the county bus system.

Frustration with such boards as OCTA's grew in 1994, when Orange County went bankrupt. At the time, city officials expressed anger over county dominance of regional decisions. Cities have asserted more power since, but the perception remained that, with OCTA, cities didn't have enough representation, said Anaheim Councilwoman and OCTA board member Shirley McCracken.

Opponents of the Correa bill, including four of the five county supervisors, insisted that expanding the board would encourage rivalries between county and city members.

By giving guaranteed seats to big cities, the board's decisions could be compromised if cities put their interests ahead of the county's, said Stan Oftelie, CEO of the Orange County Business Council.

County Supervisor Chuck Smith, the only one on his board not to speak against the bill at a recent OCTA meeting, said he was persuaded to back it because, in his view, the league's selection process had become so politicized and didn't reflect the county's changing demographics. This year, for example, the league allowed Santa Ana Mayor Miguel A. Pulido to remain on the board despite having served his maximum time on the panel.

"This proposal realigns that representation," Smith said. The OCTA board ultimately voted, 6 to 5 in the spring, to support the bill, with the four county supervisors and board Chairman Greg Winterbottom, OCTA's public member, voting no.

"Interesting," Winterbottom said. "This is our first city-county split."

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