The decision on which locally preferred alternative would be presented to Caltrans for widening the San Diego 405 Freeway was postponed on Friday by the Orange County Transportation Authority Board. I provided the news in MOORLACH UPDATE — Collaboration — November 9, 2013. However, if you want more details of the actual meeting, then ABC Channel 7 and Voice of OC provide it below, respectively.
405 Freeway toll vote postponed in Orange County amid uncertainty
A vote to implement toll lanes on the 405 Freeway in Orange County has been postponed amid uncertainty and many unanswered questions.
Janine Parker put a lot into her home of 22 years, but she is worried about what will happen. Her house sits right next to the 405 Freeway in Fountain Valley.
“It’s my retirement. This is all I have. I’m sorry, I get emotional, but it’s just, it’s not fair,” Parker said.
Parker is among dozens of people expressing their feelings to the Orange County Transportation Authority Board as it considers turning carpool lanes to toll lanes on the 405 Freeway between Seal Beach and Costa Mesa. Those toll lanes would stretch from State Route 78 to the 605 Freeway.
“We will fight it. We will not tolerate it,” said Councilmember Margie Rice with the Westminster City Council.
Some residents say they worry the tolls will block off cities and hurt businesses. Others think it will shift traffic congestion onto city streets.
“We will have nothing but chaos at the county line,” said Seal Beach Mayor Pro-tem Ellery Deaton.
Three alternatives are being studied. OCTA says whatever is chosen, one free lane will be built in each direction, and it will be paid for with the county’s half-cent sales tax approved by voters.
The toll proposal would replace the carpool lane with two tolled express lanes. Having to pay again is upsetting for many.
“The freeway, I truly believe, is supposed to be free for everyone,” said Westminster Mayor Tri Ta.
According to OCTA projections, a driver heading northbound during rush hour for the full stretch would pay a peak toll of $12.78. Southbound drivers would pay $6.11 to travel just over 13 miles.
The 405 is the busiest stretch of freeway in the country. Some locals say the congestion is hurting business.
“I’m willing to accept the alternative such as an extra lane or a paid lane,” said Tom Nguyen, an Irvine businessman.
The board decided to hold off making any decision to give more time to answer questions – like where the toll money will go.
“You just don’t impose it right from the get-go, saying we’re going to inconvenience you for five years of construction, and by the way, you’re going to have to pay to use those lanes,” said John Moorlach, OCTA director.
The OCTA Board is scheduled to meet again Dec. 9.
OCTA Board Postpones Vote on 405 Toll Lanes
By NICK GERDA
The intense battle over whether to install toll lanes on the Interstate 405 freeway is set for another round Dec. 9 after transportation officials delayed their vote by a month amid public outcry and key unresolved questions.
At the Nov. 8 meeting of the Orange County Transportation Authority board, dozens of residents and officials railed against the proposal and claimed the public’s trust is being violated.
“Tolling on top of the taxing was not part of the deal,” said Fountain Valley Councilman John Collins, referring to Measure M, the county’s half-cent sales tax for transportation.
“It’s an insult to those people who voted for [Measure] M2 to put this on.”
The OCTA board ultimately postponed its vote on the issue to Dec. 9. The delay was approved 15-0, with directors Miguel Pulido and Shawn Nelson not present.
Officials and residents alike issued a relentless stream of criticism.
“I’m just frustrated, as an elected official in this county, that I’m being rushed to make a decision,” said Director Todd Spitzer, calling the choice a “monumental” one.
He criticized what he said was a lack of any statewide policy on how to handle a new federal mandate to keep carpool lanes flowing, which is being cited as a main reason for the toll lanes.
Director John Moorlach directed some of his criticism at OCTA itself.
“We don’t even have a vision yet” of what toll lanes would look like, said Moorlach. “Shame on OCTA for waiting so long.”
Others said their trust in government is being shaken.
“I’m losing faith in my governing officials,” said a woman who identified herself as Anita. “For those who are making ends meet and the working poor, this is devastating.”
One of the most intense moments came at the beginning of public comments when the board chairman tried to block residents from speaking about the policy issues.
Chairman Greg Winterbottom told speakers they could talk only about the delay of the vote, not how they felt about the toll lanes issue overall.
“I would prefer not to hear other issues. I’m going to limit to” the motion to delay, said Winterbottom, who ironically has been the public member appointed to the OCTA board for the last 20 years.
That didn’t fly with Moorlach.
“I don’t think it’s fair to make it so narrow,” Moorlach said.
Winterbottom stuck by his position. “Please. We’ve heard this over and over and over. We know what they’re going to say,” Winterbottom said.
He ultimately backed down when the other board members threatened to overrule him.
Additionally, those speech restrictions could have run afoul of the state’s open meetings law, the Ralph M. Brown Act, which protects the public’s right to address government.
“After what I’ve seen today, I’ve been disgusted by the attitude that’s been taken by the chairman of this board,” said Costa Mesa Mayor Jim Righeimer, who also attacked a letter to the editor Winterbottom wrote to The Orange County Register.
Righeimer charged that Winterbottom’s letter was misleading by touting that toll lanes would speed up the general lanes when in fact a nontoll option, Alternative 2, would make a commute even faster.
“I’m disgusted, absolutely disgusted,” said Righeimer, calling the letter “garbage.”
Most OCTA board members appear to support the idea of toll lanes but want to find a way to get the support from local cities that are apparently angling to sue and make sure the toll money stays locally.
“We need to have all of these questions answered,” said Director Jeff Lalloway. “I think to approve [toll lanes] today would be getting the cart before the horse.”
Meanwhile, speakers from the Orange County Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and Asian Business Association of Orange County supported the toll lanes.
It would be “dealing with current problem with current dollars, rather than kicking the can down the road,” said Fountain Valley lawyer Kerry Osaki.
Another local businessman said that expanding traffic periods are shrinking his traveling consultants’ “window of commerce” and that toll lanes are a fact-based solution.
Faced with pressure from Caltrans, OCTA board members also showed interest in gathering representatives of other Southern California counties to talk through how best to meet the new federal mandate on carpool lane speed.
“They’re going to be next. This is inevitable,” Spitzer said of pressure to build toll lanes.
Speaking to a broader issue, Director Miguel Pulido said Orange County “gets beat up” across the state when it comes to funding transportation.
The San Francisco Bay Area is getting an expensive new bridge because they “speak up” and “advocate on their behalf,” he said, adding that money generated in Orange County should stay in Orange County.
Pulido ended up leaving the meeting early without explanation.
Some have even suggested that officials instead invest in rapid transit buses or light rail as a way to lighten traffic on I-405.
“We can’t keep widening these freeways ad nauseum,” said former Seal Beach Mayor Patty Campbell.
“You’re going to create a parking lot at the LA-Orange County line,” she said.
In a move that brought cautionary warnings from staff, Moorlach suggested that his colleagues take a year to decide on whether to install toll lanes.
That would give time, Moorlach said, for OCTA to work with Caltrans on a “complete vision” for toll lane policies, such as where the money would go.
The idea of a year-long delay from conservative Moorlach gained an endorsement from liberal blogger Vern Nelson.
State transportation officials, meanwhile, warn that delays into next year could put federal funds at risk.
The Federal Highways Administration wants to see that California is proactive in speeding up carpool lanes to 45 miles per hour 90 percent of the time, said Caltrans District 12 Director Ryan Chamberlain.
“Continuing to study or plan will not likely meet their expectations,” said Chamberlain.
Congressman Alan Lowenthal, D-Garden Grove, meanwhile said that other strategies are available to meet the federal mandate, like increasing the carpool lane’s occupancy requirement or adding more general lanes.
And former state Sen. Jose Solorio, D-Santa Ana, has described the mandate as a “technicality” that could be fixed through legislation.
Another sticking point is where the toll money would go, which is far from decided. The main battle is between using it to improve local cities’ roads or cover Caltrans’ budget hole.
“Who is in line? Who gets funded first?” asked Spitzer.
“You’ve got to know these deal points before you can move forward.”
The monumental size of the proposed project — $1.5 billion — was not lost on observers.
OCTA CEO Darrell Johnson called it OCTA’s single biggest and most complicated transportation project since the widening of Interstate 5.
Board members showed their appreciation for a meeting Nov. 6 with Caltrans Director Malcolm Dougherty, where he showed interest in collaborating.
In the background of the debate is the issue of maintenance money for Caltrans, which says it can’t afford on its own to keep freeways up to par.
Opponents also took aim yet again at a key argument for the toll lanes: that Caltrans would just install them anyway.
“I don’t think that’s really true, at least based on what I heard in that meeting” with Dougherty,” said Director Gary Miller.
The Caltrans director said his agency wouldn’t go forward without the agreement of OCTA, according to Miller.
Among the toll policies to be considered are whether tolls should be peak or off-peak, whether two or three occupants would allow carpools to ride for free and whether drivers can freely move in and out of toll lanes.
Others spoke to a more general critique that Southern California’s spread-out, carcentric approach to city planning plays a big role in the ever growing traffic problems.
“We are now embracing density on top of that sprawl, creating claustrophobic constraints and automotive constipation,” said Irvine resident T.R. Black.
“We simply don’t possess the ability to enjoy infinite growth on a finite planet.”
As for the toll lane idea, Costa Mesa resident Ted Bischak said his commute to Los Angeles was ruined by the new toll lanes on the Interstate 110 freeway, despite being able to use them for free because he has a natural gas car.
“It’s been fine until all hell broke loose when it was converted to a toll lane,” said Bischak, adding that he now has to figure out how to get out of the toll lane.
“It doesn’t work. What you’re proposing doesn’t work,” said Bischak.
OCTA staff, meanwhile, urged board members to make a decision quickly.
“There are cost implications,” said Johnson, the CEO, who has put the figure at $40 million extra per year, a little less than 3 percent of the project.
But local officials say they won’t back down, warning that OCTA’s next meeting on the issue Dec. 9 will bring just as much pushback, if not more.
“This room will be packed 30 days from now,” said Righeimer.
And while OCTA board members look to give local cities a cut of the toll money, some could still end up fighting their battle regardless.
“You’re not going to be able to buy us off with improvements,” said Westminster Councilwoman Diana Carey.
You can reach Nick Gerda at email@example.com, and follow him on Twitter: @nicholasgerda.
FIVE-YEAR LOOK BACKS
Foothills Sentry “Dodging the Bullet” columnist Robert Fauteux had five separate pieces. The fourth was titled “Health Trust Fund Cover-Up” and here is the first paragraph:
At the Oct. 28 Supervisors meeting, a three to two vote nixed a demand that a contractually required annual reporting be done for the county funded Deputy Sheriffs union medical trust fund. Supervisors Smith and Norby voted for it while Supervisors Campbell, Silva and Wilson voted nay. Supporting the measure were County Auditor-Controller David Sundstrom and Treasurer John Moorlach. This is the only medical trust fund arrangement, the rest of the county’s union and non-union employees are covered under a pooled medical insurance plan.
The fifth Foothills Sentry column by Robert Fauteux was titled “County CEO Search Ends (?)” and here is the closing paragraph:
A year from now, will the county’s search for a tender of the CEO’s rose garden be as interesting as the past one was? When asked if he had continuing ambitions for the job, un-ranked applicant County Treasurer John Moorlach said that a year was a long time in the county scheme of things and furthermore he may not want to reopen discussions with his wife about the matter.
This day in history would be dominated by Foothills Sentry columnist Bob Fauteux, as he personalized his name, and also changed his column name to “Politics as Usual.” Bob served in the U.S. Navy for 26 years, retiring as a captain. It is fitting and proper to remember Bob on November 11th, Veterans Day. Bob was a graduate of Columbia University and earned his MBA from Harvard Business School. Bob passed away in February of last year. This year’s segment in his column was titled “Fiscal reality means nothing to unions.” The column may be five years old, but the topic is as fresh as today. Here is a good portion of his comments:
An unwavering position of Orange County’s public employee unions is that there are no other fiscal realities than their own. Without exception, union leadership will not admit that when there is no money to pay their demands, they cry all kinds of discrimination against their blind faith members and the loss of vital public services.
Last month, the Board of Supervisors approved changes in the management of the county retirement system (OCERS), prompted by Supervisor John Moorlach’s concerns about dealing with a large shortfall (unfunded liability) in the plan to cover the future claims of union retirees. Particularly vehement in their opposition to the changes were Nick Berardino, General Manager of the county’s largest union – the Orange County Employees Association and Wayne Quint, General Manager of the Deputy Sheriff’s union. As a diversion, the unionists wanted to move the pension plan into CalPERS, the state pension plan with a management heavily influenced by union-sponsored advisors and managers. This was rejected by the supervisors. In the current economic downturn, the OCERS retirement balance losses have been about half of the 25 percent decline to CalPERS investments.
Berardino’s statement “We’d like to get it (retirement benefits) out of the political arena here” is just another of the continuing smoke-screen statements coming from the unions.
Dennis Foley of the OC Register addressed the topic of the day in “Image woes slow CEO hunt – Experts say turnover, budget, mistrust in system have hampered search.” Here is a sampling:
“I want to build a bench, develop leadership and a team approach, which we have not been successful at,” [interim CEO Jim] Ruth said. “We will have to go outside for the next CEO, in my opinion.”
That’s where supervisors have focused their attention, declining to interview some candidates inside county government, such as elected Treasurer-Tax Collector John Moorlach.
Candice Baker of the Huntington Beach Independent would cover the holiday in “Saluting veterans.” Yesterday I had the privilege to attend the Veterans Day ceremony at the American Legion Post 291 in Newport Beach, at the personal invitation of Commander Jess Lawson. I was given the opportunity to acknowledge the service of my recently deceased father-in-law, a Purple Heart recipient while serving our country in World War II in France. The twenty-one gun salute and taps had even more meaning for my wife and me this year.
More than 100 people attended the Veteran’s Day event at Pier Plaza Tuesday, where several local officials expressed their gratitude to those who have served this country.
“This is one of my great honors as a member of the House of Representatives,” Rep. Dana Rohrabacher said. “Veterans of America, veterans of Southern California and Orange County, God bless you and thank you from the bottoms of our hearts.”
Other speakers included Mayor Debbie Cook, County Supervisor John Moorlach and Naval Captain Jonathan Kurtz, the commanding officer of the Naval Weapons Station.
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