Orange County Branch Newsletter

May 2012

President's Message

By Joshua Nelson, PE

Has Much Changed in 25 Years in Orange County?

I have been glancing through some old Orange County Branch newsletters and I came across a letter to the editor from 1987. The letter was written by the branch secretary at the time David W. Prasifka. The letter was about the "Citizens Sensible Growth and Traffic Control Initiative" also known as the "Quality of Life Initiative". Looking back that must have been a key turning point in Orange County infrastructure and development history. Here is a reprint of that letter followed by some of my thoughts.


The latest initiative to appear on the political scene is the Citizens Sensible Growth and Traffic Control Initiative, also known as the Quality of Life Initiative. This initiative, which will probably appear on the June 1988 ballot, is an attempt to solve the County's traffic problems by limiting growth. If passed, the initiative would bar most development or redevelopment in areas of the county where traffic at rush hour failed to move at free-flow speeds of 30 to 35 mph, or where police, sheriff, fire and paramed1c units fail to answer emergency calls within five minutes 85 percent of the time. The basic premise is that growth control and traffic control go hand in hand. Since no one is willing to pay for and build infrastructure at the same pace of growth, advocates of this initiative propose that the best solution is to slow growth to whatever pace we find comfortable.

A closer scrutiny of the issues behind the rhetoric illustrates that this initiative is nothing more than an attempt to sloganize the County's pressing problem of freeway gridlock. Citizens need to understand that signing a no-growth petition will not take one single automobile off the congested Santa Ana Freeway. Statistics show that Orange County is growing from the inside, not from the outside. The County's natural internal growth (excess of births over deaths) has passed 23,000 per year and is still rising. Of the county's projected 700,000 population increase by the year 2000, roughly two-thirds will be due to internal growth. The development occurring in Orange County is meeting a demand, not creating one.

Orange County's rapid transition from a rural/suburban county in the 50's to an urban county in the 80's has occurred with virtually no expansion of our transportation network beyond that completed by Caltrans in the early 1960's. Orange County has only 67 miles of freeway per million residents compared to 120 miles of freeway per million residents in San Diego, or even more in other counties of equivalent population.

Prior attempts to rely exclusively on non-infrastructure hopes and dreams to solve growth-related issues are responsible for the County's current demise. While they may be politically attractive, they don't come close to adequately serving our growing population. What we now need is to attack the problems of growth with every arsenal in our armory. And that means: more freeways, more roads, wider roads, incentives for trip reduction programs, flex-time work schedules, public transit, van pool density, mixed-use workplaces to improve the feasibility of van pooling and public transit. In other words, we need to start concentrating on what we can do about the problems of growth and stop deluding ourselves into believing that by merely complaining about growth the problems will go away.

The simple truth is that growth in this county is inevitable. The reasons are the climate, recreational opportunities, a good job base and a reputation as being a good place to raise a family. To manage growth, the county needs a strong economic foundation to be stable and secure. It is important to consider how fundamental the building industry is to the county's economic health. Consider the following:

  • The industry's annual property tax bill last year was close to $40 million.
  • 53,600 people were directly employed by construction and development companies, which is roughly equivalent to the population of Fountain Valley.
  • An additional 70,000 jobs were supported through the income of those directly employed in the industry.
  • Construction was the single largest goods producing industry in the county in 1986 with a total volume of $3.5 billion; by comparison in 1985 Costa Rica had a total gross national product of $3.7 billion. It's time for all of us to work toward sensible, reasonable growth - not a ban of the future.

David W. Prasifka

Secretary, Orange County Branch

Ultimately the measure failed on a 266,549 no to 212,962 yes vote. So it was by no means a landslide. But I have to think Civil Engineers and the builder's associations were instrumental in blocking this measure and turning the County around. Three years later the County passed Measure M for the first time which took us the complete opposite direction towards more growth and infrastructure which was also probably instrumental to keeping many of us employed and living in the County. So pat yourself on the back and let's keep that momentum moving forward into all aspects of our County's infrastructure. If you are interested in a timeline of what later was named Measure A, I found this on the LA Times website. The results of that election can be found on the county's election archives page. Just click on 1988, June 7, 1988 Primary Election and choose "A-County of Orange Sens Growth/Traffic Cont" to see the official results.

If you are interested in seeing the entire July 1987 newsletter you can now find it in our archives here: ASCE OC Branch Newsletter Archives. Or here is a direct link to the July 1987 newsletter PDF. I plan to post many more newsletters over the coming months so keep your eye on that archive page. I currently have hard copies of newsletters from 1986 through 1993 and September 2006 to present, so if you have any hard copies of any other years, please contact me [email protected].