Railroad Schemes

Screw freeways: the train is emerging as the traffic solution of choice for politicians in central and northern Orange County, probably because local freeways are so royally fucked. So, politicos are hitching their futures to proposed rail projects, confident their lobbying will translate into profit and prestige for their towns and, perhaps, them. But let the acolyte beware: praying too hard to St. Christopher, the patron saint of transportation, can either prove fruitful, as in the case of Santa Ana College, or, like Placentia's former mayor, take a major hit to your electoral ambitions. St. Christopher ain't the most consistent of saints, apparently, maybe because he's no longer considered a saint owing to the fact he never existed.

On St. Chris' good side is Santa Ana College (SAC). The Orange County Transportation Authority's (OCTA) Jan. 12 approval of a final route for its long-debated CenterLine light-rail project, approved 9-2, now begins at John Wayne Airport, swings by Costa Mesa's South Coast Plaza and barrels up Bristol Street before swerving on Santa Ana Boulevard toward the city of Santa Ana's transportation hub.

The final route also includes a less than half-mile extension from the Bristol/Santa Ana Boulevard intersection to about 17th Street, an artery specifically built for SAC. It's an award of sorts for the longtime champion for CenterLine.

“To put it mildly, there was overwhelming support coming from Santa Ana College,” said OCTA spokesman Ted Nguyen. “The critical factor in approving the CenterLine route and the extension proved to be their public comments; at every public hearing, there were students, faculty and administration who enthusiastically spoke for the need for light rail to come to Santa Ana College.”

An immediate student body near the CenterLine is the primary reason for SAC's enthusiastic support; 7,064 students reside within ZIP codes traversed by the proposed CenterLine, according to 2002-2003 enrollment figures compiled by the Rancho Santiago Community College District (RSCCD), which oversees SAC.

“This college is a small city with the equivalent of 39,000 residents,” said RSCCD spokeswoman Judy Iannaccone. “Anything that makes the life of our students easier makes it important to us. With enrollment at an all-time high and limited parking, we see the CenterLine as one ingredient in the challenge to access our campus.”

Iannaccone's argument doesn't mention the county's largest educational institution already has 15 bus lines servicing it. Then again, there are other, more pertinent motives for their rah-rah support: fame. “As a 'destination' on the light-rail system,” reads an October 2003 RSCCD report, “SAC would be favorably located to assume an even more important position in the future development of the central Orange County area.”

Scott P. Brady also dreams of Iron Horse glory. The real-estate agent and Placentia city councilman has been the most vocal advocate for the Orange County Gateway Development Initiative (OCGDI), a proposed $440 million plan that would radically alter south Placentia by building a Metrolink station on the Burlington, Northern N Santa Fe railroad tracks that divide the bedroom community's northern, wealthy half from its historical Latino barrios to the south and, Brady argues, would revitalize Placentia's moribund downtown.

During a Jan. 20 City Council meeting, however, the ex-mayor was outed as having been in violation of conflict-of-interest laws for more than a year. Brady owns properties on South Walnut Street that are less than 500 feet from a lot zoned for redevelopment under the OCGDI. California conflict-of-interest laws state that politicians owning property within 500 feet of redevelopment projects cannot vote on such projects because they might benefit from them.

When the Weeklybroke this story last year, Brady replied that he wasn't breaching state regulations and, furthermore, didn't care if he were found to be (“A Very Brady Scandal,” Nov. 14, 2003). But a recently unveiled June 26, 2002, letter from California Fair Political Practices Commission general counsel Luisa Menchaca to Placentia city attorney Tom Nixon revealed that Placentia officials knew more than a year ago that Brady shouldn't be voting on any OCGDI proposals.

Before a key redevelopment vote on Jan. 20, Brady admitted to his colleagues and fellow Placentians that he did, in fact, break conflict-of-interest laws. He then announced he had recently sold the Walnut properties and was now and forever recusing himself from votes on any Placentia redevelopment issues because “I don't want to take chances on this anymore.”

This sudden streak of conscientiousness did not change the outcome, however: after Brady left the chambers, his fellow council members voted 4-0 to continue prepping for Brady's choo-choo dreams.

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