Environmentalists seduced and abandoned with Measure M extension

Measure M: Note: This refined report is from the Honorable Sandy Genis, former Mayor of Costa Mesa and one of the co-authors of the Rebuttal in opposition to the Measure M Extension.

Many people have asked me why it is that some environmentalists are supporting Measure M. This is my perspective.

As you may be aware, some time ago people started putting together a “wish list” of future open space in Orange County which came to be called the “green vision.” It could potentially be funded by getting our fair share out of Sacramento, since we are very much a donor county, or a county wide park bond or tax. 

That evolved into possibly taking part in a countywide infrastructure financing program, possibly with son of Measure M.  Some people pointed out that OCTA is a special purpose agency so any money spent on open space would have to have a nexus to their primary mission, for example as mitigation for something they wrecked elsewhere.  Thus, by agreeing to the mitigation program, we would be agreeing to the damage elsewhere.  Oh well.

Anyway, Melanie Schlotterbeck, Terry Watt, Dan Silver, and Gary Brown began meeting with Monte Ward and others at OCTA.  The basic premise they presented was that Son of M was the only game in town and the enviros better get involved.  It was not even presented as “we have to support this” as much as “we have to participate” to make sure the measure was not horrible and to get what we could included.

After much discussion, a letter was circulated for environmentalists to sign requesting the a Son of M include $800 million for habitat and a “beltway” extension and improvements needed for the I-5 to eliminate the need for the southern extension of the 241 Toll Road. The letter was added in an attempt to pacify those who strongly questioned any involvement in what was a growth inducing environment destroying measure.  The groups also affirmed support for the water quality money that was already being included. 

A really odd part is that at one point it was suggested putting the habitat money into NCCP, which is supposed to be fully funded by the participants now getting the development credits, so it would have been a gift to the Irvine Company and other major developers. What is really odd is that those who came up with this idea were heavily involved in NCCP and would have known the set up. 

The water quality part is not new money, though.  OCTA is required to clean up urban runoff. Putting it into Measure M just means they won’t have to spend other non Measure M funds addressing urban runoff, leaving more for asphalt.  There are other possibilities, too.  Supervisor Norby suggested that redevelopment funds be used for the mandated cleanup.  Thus, Measure M does NOT do anything for water quality that would not be required already, it just protects other potential funding for shopping center developers and streets.  However, some, probably most, of the groups signing on did not realize this.

What eventually happened is that Measure M includes the water quality money and a paltry $243 million for habitat–out of a total bond measure of $11.86 BILLION.  The “negotiating team” were enthusiastically cheered that the enviros could be proud of themselves for getting this much, since a similar measure in Riverside County only had $140 to $150 million for habitat, neglecting to mention of course that the Riverside measure was only for $4.4 billion, or about a third of Measure M.

OCTA also agreed to use “sensitive” design and ” California friendly” plantings.  They would not even agree to California natives.  I think California friendly might include the same old oleanders they’ve been using for decades.  The “beltway” fell by the wayside, but OCTA agreed to an “ongoing dialogue”, while also pointing out that they had no control over the Corridor Agencies. 

They agreed to “programmatic” mitigation, to buy one big habitat instead of many small ones, most likely to purchase the Shell property and other stuff in Los Angeles and San Bernardino counties–not in Orange County.  And they “agreed” to change the public representative from “an Orange County taxpayer” to a “member of the public” so we could even end up with someone not even living in the County representing us yahoos in Orange County.Throughout this process, some groups just went along and got gradually seduced while others had very heated discussions.  Some of the groups that signed on do not even realize what actually happened.  The word “envirowhores” may even have been used, maybe even by me. Environmental groups who requested a guarantee that all of the money would stay in Orange county were rebuffed.

When I think about how some good people got drawn into this and still don’t really realize what happened it makes my stomach lurch. 


Measure M will support building a road system that will create direct environmental damage and induce growth/sprawl.  The small amount included for environmental programs will likely not even mitigate the problems caused.  It’s more of the same old developer welfare we have come to know, if not love.  The road projects included, especially along the 91 and 57, will just make it easier and cheaper to build out into the foothills and inland. 

The 1990 M was supposed to clean up pre-existing problems while new problems just wouldn’t occur because they promised that transportation improvements would be phased with new development and developers would pay to fix new traffic impacts. They have the same old stuff in the current measure.  It didn’t happen then, so I doubt if it will happen in the future. 

Costa Mesa and Newport Beach have about the highest traffic impact fees in the county, but both cities have worse congestion and more intersections at failure than in 1990, so clearly new development didn’t pay its way infrastructure wise, even in cities that were fairly strict.  Others are worse.

OCTA is not supposed to spend Measure M money on the corridors, but that won’t stop them from building a road and then giving it to the TCA for free a la Newport Coast Road. 

There is some money to improve circulation in the downtown area of San Clemente but not beyond that and not in a manner that would create the requested “beltway”.  When I look at it, I wonder if it is designed to provide for the San Clemente connection for the 241 instead of the connection in the state park, thereby peeling off the “save Trestles” crowd and getting the California AG off their back.  Possibly a way of facilitating the 241??

I have an additional concern on the local level.  OCTA has several planning scenarios.  The “constrained” scenario assumes no Measure M.  The constrained scenario does not include either a Gisler/Garfield or a Nineteenth St. Banning bridge.  The Measure M scenario does.  So not only would we have a worse plan that includes the bridges, OCTA would have a bigger club/carrot with which to force it on us, i.e. Measure M funding for local projects. And by the way, OCTA’s own studies determined that the constrained scenario was environmentally superior to the Measure M Plan.
PS: From Larry Gilbert. Were we lied to? Weren’t we told that ALL of the money would be spent in Orange County? does the Plan include purchasing habitat land OUTSIDE Orange county as alleged above?
I welcome a response from Supervisor Bill Campbell who made that claim during our debate in La Habra.

About Larry Gilbert