Interesting Op-Ed Pieces on FBI Informant, Toll Roads

In "Breach of Trust: FBI Wants It Both Ways," the editorial board of UC Irvine's New University student newspaper takes issue with the indictment of a Muslim resident of Tustin and the use of a controversial government informant. (Background is here and here.) The case is bound to have a chilling effect, according to the editorial.

This incident is alarming to the American Muslim community in Orange County, who had been working hard to establish and maintain good relations with the FBI, according to the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC) and the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), and sets the already tender relationship back to square one. So was sending in an undercover informant (and possibly more) to spy on community members and instigate violent rhetoric in mosques while supposedly working diligently to develop a "partnership" with that same community on the surface really the best approach? We beg to differ.

The editorial expresses the board's problems with the informant's criminal past, the methods for gathering information and what little appears to have been gained by spying on mosques. "The FBI should redouble efforts to maintain honest communication with the affected Muslim community," writes the board, which includes this quote from MPAC senior advisor Maher Hathout: "People cannot be suspects and partners at the same time." 

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Bobby Shriver, a Santa Monica city councilman and former California State Park and Recreation Commission chairman (until his brother-in-law Arnold Schwarzenegger fired him), and Joel Reynolds, a Natural Resources Defense Council senior attorney, penned "O.C.'s Road Test: Rejection of the Foothill South Toll Road is a Chance for a New Path" in today's LA Times.

It was a bad idea that deserved to die: the six-lane Foothill South toll road through a popular Orange County/San Diego County state park. It violated the principle that parkland is permanently protected. The California State Park and Recreation Commission and the California Coastal Commission rejected the toll road through San Onofre State Beach -- no surprise there. But when the Bush administration also said no, the project's fate was all but sealed.

Everyone seems to have gotten that message except the Orange County Transportation Corridor Agencies, "which dreamed up Foothill South and hasn't yet publicly abandoned it." The problem, the authors write, is the TCA was chartered in 1986 to do one thing: build toll roads. But that may not always be the right solution, and the TCA has pusued its mission with scant independent oversight or regard for environmental consequences. And it has not worked. Projected ridership has never materialized, a $1.1-billion federal loan bailout from taxpayers is now being sought and traffic congestion has only increased since 1986.

There is a better way, according to Shriver and Reynolds.

What we need is a serious examination of alternatives beyond toll roads, especially options other than new roads through open space and parkland. Possibilities include rapid transit or carpool toll lanes, added to existing roadways, with congestion-sensitive pricing or similar strategies that take demand into consideration.

They call on the Legislature to expand the TCA's mandate to address the best traffic solutions, beyond simply building toll roads, and to have the agency answer to a comprehensive state transportation agency, in consultation with affected regional agencies. "We need mobility, and we need parkland," they write. "And we can have both if only we refuse to settle for less."


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