OCTA to Toll Lane Opponents: “Fine, NO FREEWAY WIDENING FOR YOU!”



If you can go way, way, back in your mind – back a month or two, to just before Anaheim exploded – you might remember that the pinheaded bureaucrats of OCTA were attempting to sneakily convert two taxpayer-paid lanes of the 405 into lucrative toll lanes.  What’s up with THAT mishegas?

I’d nearly forgotten myself until my phone rang early one morning last week.  It was The Moorlach, returning a call from many weeks before.  “That’s how busy I’ve been, Vern.  You wanted to talk about, let’s see, the 405 tolls and Bustamante.”  “Ah, I don’t care about Bustamante any more,” I yawned, and for some reason this caused him to bellow forth a long sasquatchy Moorlach laugh.  A Moorlaugh.

Supervisor Moorlach is probably the most solid of all the OCTA board members on our side, against the Toll Lane scam.  Along with Shawn Nelson, Lorri Galloway, Carolyn Cavecche, and probably Larry Crandall and Pat Bates, he clearly sees what a taxpayer ripoff and voter swindle it is.  That makes four to six votes that we can count on right now, but we need eight.

And it’s very much in flux.  The Toll Lane option needs nine votes out of sixteen to win.  I asked The Moorlach, do they have that?  And he wasn’t sure.  I said, “Should we keep up the heat, keep calling the Board members, keep the spotlight on them?”  And, quoth The Moorlach, “YES, PLEASE DO THAT!”

So – that’s why I start my story that way.  We need to keep up the pressure, by e-mailing them all en masse at this link, and also individually at the contact info I’ll give you below.  If you agree with me, and with most citizen/taxpayer/drivers who have a chance to hear both sides, you will want to tell them you want the two new free lanes of Alternative 2 which you’ve paid for and voted for;  and that you will raise holy hell if they try to turn them into toll lanes with their “Alternative 3.”

To refresh your memory:

  • Alternative 1 would build one new free lane in each direction, for 1.3 billion, which we have, from our Measure M sales taxes.
  • Alternative 2 would build TWO new lanes for only 1.4 billion, so we’re $100 million short but we can deal with that (see below)
  • and Alternative 3, which the OCTA bureaucracy craves, would build two new lanes but then convert the two inner lanes to high-priced toll lanes;  this would cost $1.7 billion but the extra .4 billion would be covered by the toll  revenue.  (And after THAT, they’ll have billions in toll revenue to play with!)

Out of the 15 voting members on the Board, there are five who are such Toll Lane Dead-Enders (Toll Trolls) that they’re almost not worth talking to.  Although four of the Toll Trolls are elected officials, three of those are termed out, and they all work more as lobbyists than politicians, so they don’t give a damn what you have to say.  Those five would be Santa Ana’s Miguel Pulido, Tustin’s Jerry Amante, HB’s Don Hansen, Laguna Niguel’s Paul Glaab, and so-called “public member” Greg Winterbottom.

We should be focusing our utmost persuasive powers instead on the following “swing votes” – especially if you’re in their districts or cities:

All right, I’ve mentioned that everything is in flux right now, right?  Let’s see what that looks like.

OCTA tries to Divide and Conquer the Six Unruly Western Towns!

Six feisty West-county Mayors. “Now hold it right there, partner. You’re suggestin’ me and my friends here pay you good money to ride on this trail we already paid for with our taxes?? You got another think comin.  Now GIT out of our way, boy!” (Sounds best in Margie Rice’s grand southern drawl, not as good in John Collins’ Bwoston accent.)

So, you may remember that the City Councils of the six most affected Western OC towns (with the glaring exception of run-by-whores Garden Grove) – that’s Huntington Beach, Costa Mesa, Westminster, Seal Beach, Los Alamitos and Fountain Valley – voted against the Alternative 3 toll lanes and for the Alternative 2 free lanes.  And then, you may remember that the MAYORS of those towns (the pro-tem in HB’s case)  sent OCTA a letter, which we reprinted here, detailing all their many strong objections to the Alternative 3 Toll Lane Option.  And OCTA, required by Measure M’s language to at least “take into account” the desires of the affected communities, had no choice but to read the letter and write back, having made a few small modifications in their Alternative 3.

There’s a lesson here, in politics and life in general.  When you make a long list of grievances, your interlocutor will be tempted to cave in and compromise on a few of the smaller ones, and then expect you to happily fold.  When, as likely as not, the first thing you listed was a “DEAL BREAKER” that the other side will NEVER cave on.

Well, one thing that irked Costa Mesa was Alternative 3’s intention to tear down and rebuild the Fairview Bridge, which has just recently been widened at great expense and inconvenience already.  So, OCTA saw a chance to cave there, hopefully peel off this one very outspoken Republican town from all the others, and STILL keep their precious toll lanes, if they just shortened the project by a couple miles so that it stopped BEFORE Fairview.  And hence was born Don Hansen’s “Alternative 3 Lite,” later to be known as Alternative 3A.

No sale.  A few letters have gone back and forth, but the Deal Breaker remains – ANY toll lanes created out of lanes that were paid for by the public are a theft that won’t stand public wrath OR litigation.  As I like to phrase it, we taxpayers are paying $1.3 billion or more, and putting up with 5 years of disruptive construction, and we deserve all the benefit – i.e. 2 new lanes.

OCTA likes to counter that all they promised us was one new free lane (which means pretending that today’s carpool lane is not a free lane) and that the construction of the toll lanes would be financed solely by the tolls and hence is none of our business.  I counter that, no, these toll lanes could never be built without first building the two new lanes hence leeching off our taxpayer dollars.  The irrepressible Mayor Cavecche (who generally agrees with us and opposes the toll lanes) thinks my argument is nonsense.  Well, maybe it will make more sense to her in the legalistic language the Mayors used in their latest letter dated Sept. 5:

Gift of Public Funds

In the OCTA letter dated August 21, 2012 to the Corridor Cities, OCTA asserts that user fees/tolls would be paying for the toll lanes proposed in Alternative 3, and not Measure M2 funds.  However, this argument by OCTA does not take into account that the construction of toll lanes is enabled by construction of a widened freeway section for the general purpose lane.  If OCTA factors in that the construction of the toll lanes is dependent upon the general purpose lane being paid for by taxpayers, it is clear that a portion of the toll lanes under Alternative 3 will be constructed using public funds.  Since Measure M did not anticipate the allocation of funds to enable the construction of toll lanes, it is clear that Alternatives which include toll lane provisions (Alt. 3 and 3A) are not a viable possibility.

Hm,  that kind of sounds like the sort of legalese used by folks preparing a lawsuit!

Petty, Pissy, Petulant:  OCTA becomes Seinfeld’s “Soup Nazi.”

Last I heard – and I still haven’t been to an OCTA meeting, but I will make it to the next two – the Toll Trolls are furious at our ingratitude, our ingratitude for all the little concessions they’ve given us in their grand quest for toll revenue.  They have bent over BACKWARDS, they feel!  Apparently there’s already an Alternative 3B and an Alternative 3C, ALL rejected!  At one point Jerry Amante (who has already sported the nickname “Toll Road Jerry” for years now, and already has a cushy lobbying job all lined up) threatened to take back ALL concessions and ram through hardcore original Alternative 3!  (Mayor Cavecche tells me that’s not what he said, but that’s what my friends heard.)

“No new lanes for YOU!”

Well, how else could we be punished for our ingratitude?  Perhaps, if OCTA doesn’t get their Toll Lanes, then maybe WE shouldn’t get ANY NEW LANES AT ALL.  Yeah, that’s the ticket!  Let the ungrateful public stew in their traffic jams until they come crawling back!  NO FREEWAY WIDENING FOR YOU!  That’s what they were threatening a couple meetings ago anyway.

Maybe, grumbles OCTA, we should just take our ball and go somewhere ELSE in the County, somewhere where the people aren’t so difficult, where they trust our judgment and let us make all the decisions for them.  HA!  We respond.  Fat chance finding a place like that, as long as the Orange Juice Blog and Diana Lee Carey are around!

After a little bit of calming down, but still feeling vengeful, they now say (some of them) “Okay, Alternative 3 might not happen … but then neither will Alternative 2.  You people will have to be happy with just ONE new lane.  We don’t have that extra $100 million anyway.  And all we ever promised you in Measure M was ONE new lane.”

“Maybe just ALTERNATIVE ONE for you!!”

Well, this is irritating.  As anyone who’s spent time shopping for something worthwhile can see, if you’re going to spend $1.3 billion and tear down and rebuild every bridge to get ONE new lane, it’s stupid not to spend just a small fraction more than that and get TWO new lanes.

And there are ways to cover that extra $100 million, although it’ll be difficult with an OCTA behaving like sticks in the mud.  They were on the verge of transferring some money – nearly the needed amount – from excess revenue off the 91 tolls the other day – until they remembered their pique.  Aside from that, there is federal money slated for just this sort of thing, and as soon as the great Alan Lowenthal (D, Long Beach) takes office in a few months, a big chunk of the area will finally be represented by a Congressman who believes in investing in our infrastructure and bringing back our hard-earned federal tax dollars for Orange County needs.

However this all works out, any scenario that excludes Toll Lanes on the 405 has to be considered a victory for the people of Orange County against our sneaky, corrupt bureaucrats and politicians.  But for now, let’s keep pushing for:

Yes on Alternative 2!

No on Alternative 3!

Final Vote, Monday Sept. 24!

Our Coverage Thus Far:

AND NOW, somebody has created the excellent…

No 405 Tolls.Com!

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.