A Measure of Titanic Proportions

Proponents of Measure M include everyone from real estate developers, the Orange County Transportation Agency, mass transit advocates and the Huntington Beach Police Officers Association, which will support anything as long as it doesn't mention non-lethal technology or sensitivity training. They say the 30-year extension of the county's half-cent transportation tax is crucial to ensuring the future of Orange County's infrastructure. Conservative opponents like Orange County Register columnist Steven Greenhut argue that too much of the $11.8 billion raised by the tax would fund mass transit. “The officials at OCTA . . . want nothing more than to get us out of our cars and onto buses and trains,” he railed in a Sept. 3 editorial.

Horrific images of Khmer Rouge-esque mass car burnings and forced train migrations aside, the lion's share of Measure M has nothing to do with such socialist utopian concepts as mass transit. Instead, it will fund the extension and expansion of existing freeway projects in Orange County, most notably the parking lots otherwise known as the 91 freeway, the 55 freeway and the 405 freeway. There's also plenty of cash for improving traffic flow, fixing potholes and synchronizing traffic lights on county roads.

Talk about polishing deck chairs on the Titanic. Whatever voters do with Measure M, Orange County is increasingly becoming an overpopulated mass of stucco-topped suburban housing tracts. From Chino Hills to Trabuco Canyon and Rancho Mission Viejo, what's left of genuine wilderness areas is gradually being deforested, graded and slated for new homes—all of which add to the county's intractable traffic nightmare. Traffic is our present and future, and wildlife be warned: there's no room for you here.

Only $243 million for habitat protection and about $250 million for water quality issues will be set aside. But because Measure M only funds the expansion of existing freeway projects, not new ones—and doesn't include any cash for toll road projects or the infamous Orange County-Riverside tunnel plan backed by Supervisor Tom Wilson—no fewer than 26 different “environmental” groups support Measure M. (Since when are “Latino Health Access” and “Women for: Orange County” environmental groups, by the way?)

One group refusing to endorse Measure M is the Santiago Creek Greenway Alliance, which wants a bike trail along Santiago Creek. According to one-woman government oversight agency Shirley Grindle, a member of the group, the environmental protections provided by Measure M—building tunnels under freeways and treating urban runoff from all those new traffic lanes—are already required under the current law. “We'll get this stuff anyway,” Grindle said. “This is just a way to get environmental organizations onboard.” Grindle added that most of the money would be earmarked for a mountain lion preserve in Chino Hills, part of which isn't even located in Orange County.

But Dan Silver, executive director of the Endangered Habitats League, which supports Measure M, said that current law only provides for piecemeal environmental protection on a project-by-project basis. “This is to deal with the long term, cumulative impact on wildlife—and project-by-project approvals won't get you that,” he said. Silver also said anyone who claims to know where the money will be spent is guessing. “Where this money will be spent hasn't been determined. It is going to be spent where it is the most valuable.”

Silver acknowledged there's no written guarantee that any of that money will actually be spent in Orange County. Assuming the distinguished group of scientists and state wildlife officials determine that saving mountain lions on the border of Orange and Riverside counties is more important than building bike trials in Orange, that's what will happen. “Environmental groups who oppose Measure M are missing the boat,” he said. “It will benefit Orange County but the county line is not an absolute barrier. This isn't NIMBY environmentalism. Wildlife doesn't read the maps, and the wildlife in Orange County comes from all over the place. Any conservationist should be concerned with the health of the whole ecosystem.”


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