405 tolls: Campbell flings “Hail Mary Pass,” Moorlach decries “Chinese Water Torture,” Can kicked hard.

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Down for the count?  No, the 405 Toll Lane Option known as Alternative 3 is not quite “down for the count.”  It’s down for the moment, far from the nine votes it would need to become reality.  But it’s not giving up.  It’s bleeding, bruised and beaten, but look! It is still crawling across the floor with a ferocious gleam in its eye, and probably has one of those little knives strapped to its ankle, ready to suddenly stab us in the foot and then maul us.

In other words, we’re still in the early stages of a long brutal fight to the death with this scam.  Even then there will be the part, months from now, where we think we’ve finished it off and we let our guard down, and then it suddenly pops up with an insane grin and lunges at us grasping some new unexpected weapon.

For what we’re dealing with here is a hunger for toll revenues that is implacable, more than mortal, more than human, a hunger that has OCTA staff wandering the dark and empty streets in the wee hours, arms outstretched, faces vacant, mouths agape.

Oh, also:

Teamsters Epic Fail, chapter 976.

Last week it was Teamster chief Pat Kelly, this time (Sept. 24) his deputy Ernesto Madrano (joined by some Brotherhood of Electricians guy) who came and DEMANDED Alternative 3 because it would provide JOBS NOW!  Who gives these idiots their marching orders?  It took great union friend Shawn Nelson to finally growl, “I don’t know where these labor guys get the idea that there’ll be any more concrete poured for Alternative 3 than any of the other Alternatives.”  And it’s worse than that.  Alternative 3 is the LEAST likely way for these lunkheads to get any jobs soon, since it will be stalled and probably stopped by years of litigation.

And it was even worse this time, as they trotted out two hapless young men decked out in hard hats and orange utility vests.  Oh – did they just rush over from work on their lunch break?  Not.  Their sad story was that they were unemployed, and they wanted the Board to … um, what was it again, oh yeah … CHOOSE ALTERNATIVE THREE, so they could get back to work.  They said that they spoke for ALL their fellow unemployed construction workers.  I wanted to go up to them and tell them that the other alternatives would actually get them to work sooner, but the props split too quickly through a side door, to take off their silly hats and vests and return to their unemployed lives.

And it gets even dumber as well.  Ernesto spoke passionately about how his members desperately need the Toll Lane option because the terrible freeway traffic slows down his union truck drivers so badly.  Wait a second – trucks won’t be able to use the Alternative 3 Toll Lanes!  In fact they would be slowed down even more, since they would be stuck off to the right with the rest of us non-toll payers.  I tried to chase down Ernesto as he rushed off, to ask him what the hell he was talking about, but he just shouted over his shoulder, “I’ll talk to you later, Vern!”

Who gives these palookas their orders anyway?  This is the same bought-off corner of the OC Labor movement that shows up en masse in Anaheim to support Kris Murray’s multi-million dollar corporate giveaways to hotel developers, deals under which these morons could be replaced any day by low-wage scabs from Arizona or New Mexico.  EPIC FAIL.


As Greg’s already told you, the “decision” was made, 12 to 4, to once again “kick the can” down the road to October 22’s meeting, where most members look like they will favor an option that they also see as a can-kicker, a weak temporary Alt. 1.   The Moorlach exploded with impatience, likening the process to Chinese water torture, and accusing the Toll Trolls of using delay tactics to slowly sneak in their favored option.  Of course, they righteously bristled at such an uncharitable suggestion.   No option would have had enough votes to prevail, but sometimes people should just have to go on the record.  John was joined by Larry Crandall, Pat Bates, and Michael Hennessey in a losing vote against further delay.

The procrastinators – a coalition of the weak, the confused, and the Toll Lane Dead-Enders – were given a good pretext by doddering termed-out Supervisor Bill Campbell, who threw what he repeatedly called a “Hail Mary Pass” – a brand new scrawled-out proposal that most directors and audience members had a hard time comprehending, but the lawyerly-minded Diamond interprets as “a rococo alternative that would authorize #3 contingent on the state imposing a 3+ requirement on HOV lanes, without which it would default to #1.”

Wait – why do we need a “Hail Mary Pass?”  A desperate last-minute attempt to score a touchdown for WHOM, for what side?  Well, it’s a pretty good bet that the state or feds are going to impose that 3+ requirement, so this is a Hail Mary Pass for the Toll Trolls, among which we sadly but unsurprisingly now have to include the consummate insider wheeler-dealer Campbell, swelling their ranks on the Board to six.  There is otherwise no logic at all to this Campbell proposal … but it DID give his baffled colleagues a good excuse to put off their decisions for yet another month while they try to make heads or tails of it.

Speaking of that pending Federal or State decision to force us to change our carpool lanes from 2+ to 3+.  A few otherwise intelligent directors – Nelson, Cavecche, for example – seem obsessed with that eventuality, and the waiting for it.  I really don’t see how that affects what alternative should be chosen.  Maybe some Toll Trolls hope that we would stop thinking of our free 2+ lane as a free lane if it were 3+, and then be less resentful of them privatizing it into a Toll Lane.  But in reality, nothing changes if you’re an Alternative 2 supporter:

  • Alternative 2 is still the best even if the HOV lane remains 2+ as it is.
  • Alternative 2 is still the best even if the state or Feds make us change it to 3+.
  • Alternative 2 is still the best even if we got RID of our carpool lane.  (Which, I’m starting to agree with TJLocalSA, might not be a bad idea, but is not in the cards.)
  • Alternative 2 would still be the best idea even if the state or Feds made us change our carpool lane into a lane for joggers and extraterrestrials.  [see example to right.]


“All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”

– Leo Tolstoy.

Paraphrasing the great Russian novelist, we can posit that Moorlach, Nguyen, Crandall and Dalton are all alike in their simple, straighforward support for the Common Sense Alternative Two, whereas one could pen fascinating, contrasting character studies about the others – the wafflers, the ones who SORT of want Alt 2 but have reservations, the ones who seem to really think Alt 1 is worthwhile, the ones who want to impose Alt 1 as a punishment, the ones who support Alt 1 as a sneaky way to delay and get Alt 3, the ones who shamelessly back Alt 3 damn the torpedoes, and the ones who flail about blindly for other possibilities.

The new catchphrase for the Alt 2 contingent, which is MY contingent, is the noble “We have the opportunity to EXCEED the public’s expectations.”  [Moorlach echoing Robin Marcario.]  This is a direct response to the surly “All we ever promised voters was ONE LANE” coming from the overly cautious members and angry Toll Trolls alike.

As I’ve mentioned, Moorlach, Crandall, Nguyen, and Dalton have all come out strongly for Alternative 2, which is the “locally preferred alternative” of the cities they represent.  I can say that Pat Bates and Lorri Galloway are ALMOST there.  Bates actually said she could go with either 1 or 2 depending on the rest of the Board (as though there wasn’t a huge difference between 1 and 2.)  And LoGal, whom I’d THOUGHT I had wrapped around my finger (she replies, “Aren’t you glad I’m against the tolls at least?”) wants to assure herself that any additional funding 2 might need won’t come at the expense of her beloved Anaheim.  Of course.  As she should.

But there IS starting to develop a slight undercurrent of regional rivalry.   (Come on, guys, we ALL drive on the damn 405.)  Fullerton’s Shawn Nelson (who, number one, has yet to be convinced that we DO have the money for Alt 2) is concerned about funding being taken from his part of the county, as is Lake Forest’s Peter Herzog, whose suggestion that the pro-Alt 2 western cities should contribute some extra money to the project provoked a furious, out-of-order retort from my new friend Costa Mesa Mayor Eric Bever that Costa Mesa is already a “Donor City,” dammit! [CORRECTION:  Eric tells me his retort was to a comment from Campbell, not Herzog, and that it was not out-of-order, but a ” ‘parliamentary procedure,’ ‘point of clarification,’ to regain the floor.”]

I’ve just mentioned the four directors who need to be convinced that Alternative Two – the Alternative Two Lite or Common Sense Alternative – is within our budget and won’t be taking away from projects in their areas.  ***Those of us who joined this struggle because of our outrage over the proposed Toll Lane Swindle are really succeeding, but we need to now raise our sights, and make sure Alternative Two happens, NOT One.***  Bates, Galloway, Nelson and Herzog will get us up to eight votes but we need nine.

There are two remaining directors whom I wouldn’t consider Toll Trolls – “public member” Michael Hennessey, and Orange Mayor Carolyn Cavecche.

Hennessey, strangely, catalogued his sort of reverse-evolution from Alt 2 backer to Alt 3 supporter, as his worry that even the two extra lanes would not support enough traffic a decade or two down the road became assuaged by legends of the toll option’s mythical “throughput.”  Odd – just while most of the others were beginning to see what a terrible idea Alternative 3 was, Public Member Hennessey tried a swig of the Toll Koolaid, and found it refreshing.

But I met him after the meeting and he turned out to be a real nice and open-minded guy.  I made my usual crack about “What kind of Orwellian term is ‘public member’ for the two guys who are neither chosen by NOR accessible to the public?”  And he laughed and gave me his number.  I do believe we can talk sense into Michael Hennessey.  Hello, Michael!  That was not a threat.

And then there’s the aptly named Cavecche, who seems to be against EVERYTHING.  I really appreciate her having spoken to me a lot, over the phone, from the beginning, and I have gotten to know all her pet peeves.  I can’t see her voting for Alternative 3, as she firmly and rightly believes that turning a lane that the taxpayers paid for into a toll lane is illegal and wrong.  But she also likes to kvetch that even with Alternative 2 (let alone 1) Orange County is going to continue to have major gridlock as our traffic continues to mount exponentially, which she’s sure it will.  Well, at least the prickly lady could maybe support the LEAST BAD alternative?  Which I THINK she would admit is #2?

Alternative 1:  At best, STOOPID;  at worst, RETARDED.

As I’ve intimated, Alternative 1 is drawing the lukewarm attention of the directors who see the problems with #3 but are too timid to make the leap to #2, along with some directors who want to punish the public for rejecting their preferred #3, and some sneaky directors who think that somehow it can be an interim dodge while they figure out another way to slip in #3 somehow.  Their unexciting rallying cry is, “At least this is what we promised voters with Measure M – ONE NEW LANE.  And at least we know we have the money for it.”  But nobody really thinks it’s a GOOD option.

Well, nobody except for Director Peter Herzog of Lake Forest, who adds to the above, “It IS a big deal!  It’s 1.3 Billion Dollars!  It is a HUGE commitment!”  And so on, mostly in the vein of how BIG it is compared to doing nothing, not in the vein of what it would accomplish.

But Miguel Pulido actually said something true Monday morning.  I’ll repeat that:  Miguel Pulido said something true.  Even if it was in the context of full-throatedly advocating Alt 3.  He asked Kempton:  “Right now, our current traffic situation on the 405 is graded at an F, correct?”  “Yes.”  “And am I right that, given traffic projections, by the time Alternative 1 would be finished in 2019, it would still be an F?”  “Well, maybe an F-plus.”  [Laughter.]  “Still, around an F, right?”  “That’s right, around an F.”  “Well, I went to school, my kids have gone to school, and I know ‘around an F’ is still an F.”  [Conversation paraphrased by memory.]

And the Small Dark Lord is right.  At the cost of 1.3 billion and taking down and rebuilding every bridge between the 605 and Fairview over the course of five years, Alternative 1 would leave us roughly about as jammed up as we are today, with rush hour traffic projected to take nearly an hour to move those 13 miles.  Really, there are people who are seriously thinking about doing that???

In fact, I’ll go out on a limb and say this here for the first time:  Given its huge expense, its five years of dislocation, and its negligible benefit, Alternative One is worse than doing nothing.  I’m sorry, Mr. Herzog, the Small Dark Lord is correct.  Alternative 1 does get an “F.”

Anatomy of a Toll Troll

To be a Toll Troll back in June or July didn’t take much – you were surrounded by OCTA staff and their arguments, which were convincing!  They are good at being convincing, they are paid to be convincing, they are convincers!

Clockwise from top left: Amante, Winterbottom, Hansen, Glaab.

To be a Toll Troll now entails a lot more.  You have to either not care, or live in denial of, the fact that Measure M voters did not and would not have voted for Toll Lanes.  A certain sense of superiority is required – obviously you are comfortable with the idea of a two-tiered society, and you also feel qualified to make decisions for the public against their will.  You must be willing, eager even, to embrace litigation; probably you have enough close attorney friends that it’ll be worth steering them the work even if you lose, and you might even be rash enough to think you could win.  And most of all, you must be termed-out or have a lucrative job lined up so that you can be sincerely indifferent to what the public thinks about you.

I’d read a hundred mostly bad things about consummate Toll Trolls Mayor Pulido and “Toll Road Jerry” Amante, but this was the first time I’d heard them talk, and I can see how they do so well in politics.  They both got the charm, the facile way with words, the colorful metaphors, the jokey familiar way with allies and foes, the endless anecdotes (true or not) of the way they did things back in the 90s.   But I listened close, and I heard Jerry say that he and Miguel wished they’d had the option, back in the day, of putting tolls on the 5 where it goes through their town.  And I also heard Jerry, as he’s been reported to have done, express the desire to take back all the Alt-3-lite concessions that were given to the ungrateful western towns, and return to the original Alternative 3.  And yes, it did sound vengeful and punitive.

Pulido, as expected, sang the praise of tolls;  it was also his motion to delay the vote by a month, quite obviously to give toll advocates time to regroup.  Then, “public member” Greg Winterbottom, still smarting from our Mayor Quimby calling him a “weak sister who’s never met a staff report he didn’t praise,” but cheered by Pulido’s compliment of his electric wheelchair, managed to mumble that he agreed with everything Pulido said.

The story of Don Hansen would be a sad one if he were more likable.  The only prominent self-styled OC “conservative” to love tolls (probably due to an over-literal ingestion of the Reason Foundation’s extremist libertarian propaganda), he’s also been abandoned and nearly disowned by his own Huntington Beach City Council.  Now even his efforts at kneecapping public workers and outsourcing city jobs are faceplanting – even with a Republican Council majority.  What once seemed like a bright political future, a probable shoo-in for Moorlach’s Supe seat in 2014, is now going to be forever blighted by this tragic and doomed love affair with privatized social engineering.

Laguna Niguel’s Paul Glaab, who, using his title of Chairman of the Board, has been the most outspoken advocate for the Toll Alternative in the local press, had the job of running the meeting.  At the end, when the vote was booted to Oct 22 and some members bitched about what a busy meeting that would be – since it will also include their proposed bus fare hike – Paul more than once joked that “That’s why we get paid the big bucks.”  It was funny, and not, because it wasn’t true, and yet it was.  The Board members get only a nominal fee for attending meetings.  But Paul gets paid very well as a lobbyist, and thinks the way he does because he’s a lobbyist, like so many former and current OCTA Board members, including at least FOUR of our six Toll Trolls.

We Can Afford Alternative 2 Lite, the Common-Sense Alternative!

After the meeting I happened past The Moorlach – damn he’s tall – and he grinned at me and then rolled his eyes in exasperation.  “We do have the money for Alternative Two Lite, don’t we?”  “Yes, we do!” he replied.  “Some of your colleagues don’t believe that!”  “Well, it’s your job to convince them, Vern, you’re smart enough.”

Why is this sasquatch always assigning me tasks?  He gets paid ten times more than me, and he has access, or SHOULD have access, to the OCTA bureaucrats who can answer our questions, which are also his questions.  But this is what we all need to do these next few weeks – prove that we have the money for the streamlined Alt 2 and that it won’t come at the expense of other cities’ projects, and convince Nelson, Bates, Galloway, Herzog, Cavecche, and Hennessey (give or take one) of those facts.

Here’s what we’re starting with.  We’ve been told for months we have $1.3 billion for this project.

And we’ve been told that Alt 2 would cost $1.4 billion, for what’s been imprinted in everyone’s mind as a $100 million shortfall.

But we’ve been streamlining Alternative 2.

We are no longer tearing down and rebuilding the Fairview Bridge.  What does that save us? [Correction – the Fairview demolition was part of the original Alt 3 but not the original Alt 2.]

We are no longer purchasing land in Fountain Valley from the businesses that are no longer going to be displaced.  What does that save?  (I heard it is a lot.)

With the new “Common Sense Alternative” of only one extra northbound lane north of the 22, we are no longer proposing to tear down and rebuild the Almond Avenue Sound Wall.  HOW THE HELL MUCH DOES THAT SAVE?

On top of all of that, there is the “design-build option” which would save $70 million – and I realize it is a “crap shoot” that requires legislation, but why don’t we start looking at that possibility – it seems like just the job for Lou Correa and Tom Daly to pull off.  Why would Sacramento deny, to such slick gentlemen, the opportunity for Orange County to improve its transportation at the lowest possible cost in this dire economy?

These are all questions that OCTA could answer, but prefer not to, because their hearts are set on Alternative 3.

Could The Moorlach, or Janet or Larry, make OCTA answer those questions at the next meeting?

Is there someone else who can answer those questions?

Let’s do this thing.

About Vern Nelson

Greatest pianist/composer in Orange County, and official troubador of both Anaheim and Huntington Beach (the two ends of the Santa Ana Aquifer.) Performs regularly both solo, and with his savage-jazz quintet The Vern Nelson Problem. Reach at vernpnelson@gmail.com, or 714-235-VERN.