405 Toll Lanes Killed! (for this year at any rate…)


Smells like…. VICTORY.

(temporary victory.)

In another grueling OCTA session, the Toll Lane Alternative 3 was not able to muster more than six of the required nine votes to pass.  And this was the full, original, punitive Alternative 3, minus all the concessions given to the corridor cities (such as saving the Fairview Bridge.  Either Crandall or Moorlach snarled, “You guys really wanna GIVE it to the corridor cities, don’t you?”)  This motion from Supervisor Campbell only got the votes of Campbell, Pulido, Glaab, Amante, Winterbottom, and (sadly) Hennessey.  All the known Toll Trolls, and nearly all termed out at the end of this year… except notably Don Hansen voted no!

Also, and even more, unable to muster a majority, was the popularly preferred Alternative 2 with its two new free lanes.  It was rejected in two iterations:

First Moorlach moved for the Streamlined Alternative 2 – what’s sometimes called the Moorlach option or the Crandall option or the Orange Juice option – that is, two new lanes, but going northbound cutting down to ONE new lane around the 22, to save the popular Almond Avenue Sound Wall in Seal Beach while also saving some money.  It was immediately mentioned that this would create a bottleneck at the 22 (a bottleneck which would occur anyway a couple miles farther north if the lanes weren’t cut down) and Carolyn Cavecche tartly noted that “this dais is not the place to be designing highways.”   Janet Nguyen, generally an Alt 2 supporter, decided to bail on it, refusing to back something that would “cause people to get off the freeway and add to Garden Grove traffic.” GG Mayor Dalton, hearing his town mentioned, also went no.  Later it was explained that this was Janet’s traditional way of trying to mess up anything Moorlach tries to do – fortunately no victory or defeat was riding on it.  The popular option only got the votes of Moorlach, Crandall and Bates.

Then Crandall tried original hardcore Alt 2, which of course has the problem of tearing down the Sound Wall and infuriating Seal Beach, while not saving money.  That got the votes of Crandall, Moorlach, Nguyen and Dalton, and was explained to me as a slap from Crandall back at Janet.

What DID Pass…

What did pass, as I believe I predicted last night, was Alternative 1.  Nobody is real happy with Alternative 1 per se, which will improve traffic negligibly if at all given its huge cost, but it passed easily with 12 votes (all except the 4 Alt 2 devotees.)  In a way, as I’ve said, it is a temporary compromise, but it’s also a way to move forward for now.

The Toll Trolls – what’s left of them, mainly on the staff by then – will try to morph Alt 1, next year when they think we’re not looking, into Alt 3.  Except I think they’re going to need legislation or a popular vote to do that – I will come back when I find out more.

The thing is, it’s also possible for us to morph Alternative 1 into Alt 2 or Streamlined Alt 2 next year as well.  A lot of it all depends on the composition of the Board, which will have TEN NEW MEMBERS in a couple months – something we’ll look at below.

Moorlach and Crandall are my heroes for their efforts to get thru the popular Alt 2 now, but at this meeting the most impressive voices of reason were Shawn Nelson and Peter Herzog.

Shawn, like everyone tiring of hearing endless arguments good and bad from Alt 2 and Alt 3 supporters, and seeing there would never be a majority on either side, got everybody focused:  With Alternative 1 we can get the $1.3 billion (that figure again!) allocated, get these silly union guys to work (who were there AGAIN in force demanding Alt 3 for some reason) and decide next year whether we can chalk that as two extra lanes and/or make some of them toll lanes.  And he very clearly expressed the common sense view that there’s no apparent reason Alt 2 should cost $100 MILLION more than Alt 1.  Amen, Shawn.

And Peter Herzog was sincerely troubled by all the stubbornly unanswered questions about what was planned for the billions in toll revenue once they were done paying off the basic project.  It’s completely left in the air, what that revenue should be allocated for, and even the area in which that revenue can be spent is depicted in a crazy quilt of four different maps.  The lamentable Jerry Amante called Herzog’s concerns “disingenuous,” and Herzog righteously took offense at the insult, as he should have.

In retrospect it was a great relief that Herzog and Cavecche did not join the Toll Trolls – they’d been so hard to read recently – and that Hansen abandoned his fellow toll advocates.  Those three could have had us on the fast track to Alternative 3 today (and to endless litigation.)  Conversely, it was very disappointing that well-meaning nice guy Hennessey really seems to find the Toll Trolls more convincing than us populists despite all our lobbying of him.

(On Cavecche:  Some of us have been watching her closely.  Originally a strong opponent of turning free lanes into toll lanes, we wondered if she could hold to that position after being appointed the new head of OC Tax, and now working for and closely with people like Reed Royalty and Curt Pringle, who crave Toll Revenue in their very bone marrow.  So far, there doesn’t seem to be a sign of her having a conflict of interest… or at least not one strong enough to make her greenlight tolls this morning.)

Did You Know We Are Guinea Pigs?

Moorlach and Herzog took startled note of something just casually slipped into today’s packet, that they hadn’t seen before – the proposal to put toll lanes on the 405 IS, it turns out, part of a much huger “regional” scheme to put toll lanes on pretty much ALL our major highways, including the 5 all the way to San Diego.  (More details on THAT when I find it.)  Moorlach was all, why did WE never hear about this?  Is the 405 the guinea pig here?

And Chairman Paul Glaab, the termed-out Toll Troll, responded, simply, “YES.”  Yes, the 405 IS the guinea pig in a much larger Toll Lane scheme.  You got it from the horse’s mouth, folks.  Pulido and Amante went on to marvel how other counties will be admiring and copying us eventually!  Well, you lot can keep your wet toll dreams, the people of OC say NO.

Also, reading Greg Diamond’s mockery last night of Don Hansen’s visionary September rhetoric, and listening to Pulido, Amante, and Lucy Dunn today, you couldn’t help but notice the creepily cultish enthusiasm of the way the Toll Trolls perceive and present themselves, and their mission.  “We can do something that’s never been done before, something HUGE, something VISIONARY, reach for the STARS…” etc.  Jesus.  Just give us a couple more damn lanes to drive on, buster.


Repeat them enough, you know the rest.  Despite numerous speakers including myself, and despite my article of last night (written way too late of course) the canard of a “$100 million shortfall” to put two lanes on the 405 just kept being repeated on the dais.  Maybe this needs to be etched on people’s foreheads or blazoned across the sky – THERE IS NO $100 MILLION SHORTFALL.  We have $1.3 billion to improve the 405, and we have brought the cost of Alternative 2 down to that $1.3 billion – down much farther even, when Senator Correa shepherds through a bill to make it “design-build.”  But this mythical shortfall went on informing the decisions of at least half the people on the dais.

And ERGO, all the talk about other people’s projects having to be sacrificed if we get two lanes on the 405 is just what Mr. Crandall called it – FEARMONGERING.  And the staff was doing its fearmongering as though Halloween were coming up, and half the Board was either falling for it or pretending to, fretting like Jewish mothers about all the goodies they’d have to sacrifice if we irresponsibly went with two lanes on the 405.

And what does this passage from page 44 of the agenda mean, which Cavecche highlighted to show that the cost of Alt 2 was higher than ever, even with the $70 million savings from Fountain Valley?  HOW DOES $1.4 BILLION MINUS 70 MILLION MAKE $1.43 BILLION?  Is this a misprint?  A convenient one, for those who want to defeat Alt 2?  Really, can someone explain this, and if it’s a mistake, how did it withstand the extra attention Carolyn brought to it this morning?

With the relevant numbers highlighted. Yes, this is apples to apples.  Click for larger outrage.

In what world does math work like that? Seriously, doesn’t taking a $70 million savings off a $1.4 billion cost take us to $1.33 billion – and that’s design-bid-build.  ($1.2 billion for Alt 2 if we get Design-Build.)  Am I missing something here?

‘Tis the season for a new Board…

What becomes of 405 and Alt 1 will be up to a whole new Board, with ten new members, but a glance at who’s leaving looks good for us opponents of toll lanes.

Notably, we’ll be losing the one toll-loving Supervisor, Bill Campbell, and replacing him with Todd Spitzer, who seems a lot more honest, and I’ll be talking to him about all this shortly.

We’ll be losing ALMOST all the other Toll Lovers – Paul Glaab, Miguel Pulido, Jerry Amante, Don Hansen, Gregory Winterbottom.  Do you notice something about them?  They are almost all termed-out politicians so they didn’t mind supporting something so unpopular and contrary to voters’ intentions.  They will be replaced with politicians who are NOT termed out, who will be completely aware of the controversies surrounding this Third Rail of OC Politics, 405 Toll Lanes.

We’ll only be losing four Board members whom we’ll miss at all – Crandall, Dalton, Galloway and Herzog.  Happy trails to them.  The selection of new Board members will be watched with great interest by both sides of the debate over the future of the 405 and our other FREEways, and the struggle will continue next year.  Again…

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.