OC Democratic Party Goes on Record: NO TOLL LANES FOR THE 405!

After much of a month off, Orange Juice Blog is back on the No 405 Toll Lanes beat — with some good news of progress in the battle against “Lexus Lanes.”

[I have to include even more of a disclosure here than usual: I agendized the “No 405 Toll Lanes” resolution for the DPOC, was involved in its drafting and revision, and managed the effort to pass it. I write about it here not as a “vanity project,” but because of the stakes: the OCTA staff wants to put toll lanes on the 405, which according to Carey is a step toward doing so throughout Orange and San Diego Counties, creating an exclusive (and, we’ll bet, far better maintained) separate freeway system for the wealthy to enjoy. This is a big battle that will either end with the OCTA’s defeat this month or else most likely go to court. You can find a list of our extensive coverage thus far — which is about to shift into overdrive — at the end of this post. — Greg]

Death of Sonny Corleone at a toll booth

Advocates of toll lanes for the 405 freeway have seriously downplayed the dangers associated with them.  Admittedly, the carnage in the famous movie scene depicted above does not rank highly among them.

By a vote of 37-1, The Democratic Party of Orange County (“DPOC”) passed a resolution on Monday, August 27, favoring the construction of two new lanes in each direction on the 405 freeway (what is being called “Alternative 2”) but opposing creation of any tolls lanes, the “Alternative 3/3A” that has been promoted by the Orange County Transit Authority (“OCTA”).  The toll lane alternative has been opposed most prominently by Westminster Traffic Commissioner and City Council candidate Diana Lee Carey at OCTA meetings and hearings and electronically in these pages and at No405Tolls.com.  We’ve been mostly quiet on the issue while focusing on Anaheim and such for the past month.  With OCTA prepared to hold a final vote on the issue in a meeting at 9 a.m. on Sept. 24, though, we’re bringing it back squarely into focus!

Here’s the text of the resolution that was passed:


No on I-405 toll lanes; Yes on adding two free lanes

WHEREAS, voters approved a plan under Measure M to spend tax dollars on widening the 405 Freeway, but did not approve the addition of toll lanes, or the conversion of carpool to carpool connectors to toll lanes; and voters were led to believe that the widening project would benefit everyone who rides the freeway, and that the widening would remain free; and that $1.3 billion is currently projected to be available to widen and add two additional free lanes in each direction; and

WHEREAS, the proposed conversion of taxpayer-funded carpool lanes and carpool-to-carpool connectors to toll or express lanes is highly controversial and invites litigation that is likely to substantially delay the needed project and associated jobs; and adding tolls to the 405 Freeway would substantially reduce the number of vehicles eligible for free carpool status, require additional overhead for surveillance, accounting and enforcement systems, and raise questions of economic justice; and there is no detailed plan regarding how to spend the projected $1.5 billion to $4.6 billion that would be generated by the tolls on the Freeway; and

WHEREAS, widening the 405 Freeway and adding two additional free lanes in each direction would create numerous badly needed jobs for building trades workers and others in Orange County;

BE IT RESOLVED, that the Democratic Party of Orange County SUPPORTS Alternative 2, which would widen and add two additional free lanes in each direction to the 405 Freeway: and OPPOSES Alternative 3, or 3A, which would add toll lanes to the 405 Freeway, without the approval of Orange County voters as required under Measure M, and without a detailed plan to spend the projected $1.5 billion to $4.6 billion that would be generated by the tolls on the Freeway; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that the Democratic Party of Orange County URGES both, OCTA and Caltrans to consider procuring the 405 Freeway widening contracts through the competitive bidding process, to have provisions for Buy American products only, and to include public oversight, inspection and performance measures to overall monitor the project’s work, cost and progress of each contract.

Original author:  Greg Diamond

Proposed by DPOC Resolution’s Committee and Approved as amended by DPOC Central Committee Meeting August 27, 2012.

The second “Resolved” clause was added at the meeting by DPOC Central Committee member John Vassiliades.

The lone dissenter — an honorable position, when acting from principle, in which I too find myself from time to time — was DPOC Treasurer Reggie Mundekis, about whom (brace yourself) I’m about to say some generally kind things.   At the request of Chair Frank Barbaro, who was not present at the meeting, prior to the vote one outside speaker was to speak in favor of the resolution and one opposed to it prior to the vote.  I had arranged for Diana Lee Carey, who had been a lonely voice against the toll lane proposal (until Ray Cordova introduced her at a Flag Day ceremony that Vern and I attended, bringing the awesome power of the Orange Juice Blog into the battle) to speak and answer questions.  (She did so magnificently.)  Mundekis had arranged for IBEW head Doug Mangione to speak, with Teamsters head Patrick Kelly as a backup; when Mangione could not make the meeting, Kelly stepped in.

The thrust of Kelly’s speech was that we have enormous unemployment among building trades workers in the county and we have to do what we can to alleviate it.  This was met with approval by the audience — but also some confusion, as the fact that the resolution favored Alternative 2 (which will allocate $1.4 billion in funds raised by measure M2) was an attempt to do exactly that.  (I was sitting next to a prominent labor leader who presumed from Kelly’s opposition that the resolution must have been opposed to any construction at all.  This took a while for us to sort out.)

In fact, there’s a good argument that the building trades will be helped more significantly and quickly by Alternative 2 than Alternative 3 or 3A, because the former won’t be dragged into litigation and either of the latter will.  Measure M2 funds aren’t supposed to be used for toll roads; it wasn’t sold to voters that way.  In fact, it was sold to voters with the understanding that they would have some direct say in the use of the money — say, through the six City Councils that have already rejected the idea, or even through a referendum.  OCTA rejects the latter, claiming that it already has all the authority it needs to do anything it wants.

Mundekis did speak to the merits of the resolution as well, though, and her argument was not one to be easily ignored.  I focus on it here because I think it tells us something about the state of politics in Orange County today.  Mundekis’s reasoning was this (and if I have any of it wrong, I hope that she or someone familiar with her argument will offer a correction): the conservatives who run the county are going to block any expenditure of public money on transportation projects that would employee building trades workers in the future.  In order to get them to allocate money for transportation, we need to give them something in return — in this case, a separate and faster mini-freeway system that most people in the county could not afford to enjoy.  In other words, giving toll lanes to the wealthy is a way of “paying tribute” to them so that they cooperate with the greater good.

Mundekis may be right — but I find the notion offensive.  If they truly won’t go along with needed transportation improvements, it’s the role of the Democratic Party to agitate to replace them with politicians who will do so.  (Of course, opposition to the toll lanes is not a partisan issue: of members of the OCTA Board who will vote on which proposal to adopt, Democratic Santa Ana Mayor Miguel Pulido is apparently for the toll lanes and Republican County Supervisor and a bunch of Republican Mayors in the west county are opposed to it.)

(Want to see politics making strange bedfellows?  After reading our articles, check out commentary by Costa Mesa Mayor Eric Bever and just yesterday by Council candidate Colin McCarthy.  I’d like to think that the anti-Righeimer candidates in that city are going to get with the program, too — but how best to send them that message?)

Beyond that, I find the argument inapplicable: in this case, pretty much everyone in the debate is in favor of widening the 405 by two lanes in each direction; the question is what kind of lanes they will be — free or tolled?  There’s no need to buy off the wealthy to relieve congestion on the 405.  One way or another, it is going to happen.

Where Mundekis’s argument applies with greater force is in an area that is, if anything, even more horrifying.  As our Mayor Quimby has disclosed in these pages, OCTA project that once the bonds are paid off in a few years, there will be a large and permanent flow of money from the tolls into … yes, OCTA’s own coffers!  Just as OCTA says that people don’t get to vote on creation of toll roads — which will surely land them in court — OCTA apparently believes that it has complete discretion over how to spend money that the toll lanes eventually direct into its coffers.

In other words, OCTA — composed of the five Supervisors, a dozen or so nine representatives from city councils, and a couple of at-large appointees — wants to create a slush fund that its future members will be able to control.  This fund would be available to politicians for pet projects and shielded from the democratic process.  Yes, building trades unions might end up building the projects — or they might not!  There would be no guarantee that union labor will be used — just a hope.  The guarantee would that some politicians would be able to spend a lot of money from wealthy motorists on whatever transportation projects they choose — which is usually a recipe for corruption.

I sympathize with Mundekis’s desire to (1) pry money out of the tight fists of our wealthier coastal motorists and (2) to get that money used, for good public purposes, into the bank accounts of unionized laborers.  Unfortunately, I don’t think that this would do the trick.  What it would do is make it easier to allow the wealthy of Southern California to build a separate and unequal freeway system that allow them to divorce their interests from “the rabble” who can’t afford tolls.  Then they can argue against taxes going to freeway maintainance — because, after all, who needs it?  Twenty years from now, we’d hear Newport Coasters explain that they all drive on the “expensiveways” — and if others choose not to do so, that’s their own problem.

I don’t like that portrait of the future — and I am very proud of my county Democratic Party for coming out against it.  I hope that the county’s Republican party will realize that it doesn’t want to be on the wrong end of a nasty political issue this fall — and on and on for as long as tolls are shunted into slush funds — and will quickly pass a resolution modeled after ours.

Our Coverage Thus Far:

You should also be following the excellent…

No 405 Tolls.Com!

Again, E-mail ALL the OCTA Board Members by clicking HERE.

About Greg Diamond

Somewhat verbose attorney, semi-retired due to disability, residing in northwest Brea. Occasionally runs for office against bad people who would otherwise go unopposed. Got 45% of the vote against Bob Huff for State Senate in 2012; Josh Newman then won the seat in 2016. In 2014 became the first attorney to challenge OCDA Tony Rackauckas since 2002; Todd Spitzer then won that seat in 2018. Every time he's run against some rotten incumbent, the *next* person to challenge them wins! He's OK with that. Corrupt party hacks hate him. He's OK with that too. He does advise some local campaigns informally and (so far) without compensation. (If that last bit changes, he will declare the interest.)