Light rail just one solution

July 27, 2003

Pardon me, boy, is that the Chattanooga Choo Choo? One, that's

CenterLine, the Orange County Choo Choo. Two, don't call me "boy."

And three, where have you been, if I may ask?

Last Monday was a big day for the supporters of the CenterLine

light rail system, of which I am one. The Orange County

Transportation Authority, or OCTA if you're into acronyms, voted 9-2

to keep the CenterLine project going. In the interest of full


disclosure -- as opposed to semi-disclosure -- I have been working on

CenterLine for a long, long time, both as a public official, which

was then, and as a consultant, which is now.

Come back with me to 1988. George Bush -- the senior one -- was

President, Southern California was growing by leaps and bounds and

the streets and freeways were jammed. It was a totally different


In that very year, a pod of central Orange County mayors (they

always travel in pods) put their heads together (fortunately no one

was hurt) and started to think deep thoughts about a light rail

system that would run through the core of Orange County.

There was the mayor of Santa Ana, Dan Young, now a senior vice

president with the Irvine Company; the mayor of Irvine, Larry Agran,

who is closely related to the current mayor of Irvine; the mayor of

Anaheim, Fred Hunter; and the mayor of Costa Mesa, whose name I can't

recall and who has not been heard from since. After a lot of

ruminating, a little cogitating and a dash of debating, the pod of

mayors gave birth, figuratively speaking, to the "Central Orange

County Fixed Guideway Agency" or, the "Central Orange County Fixed

Guideway Agency" for short.

What they proposed was a light rail system that would run from the

Irvine Transportation Center in the south, to Anaheim and Fullerton

in the north, and eventually expand east and west once the core

system was built. Seemed like a reasonable idea, but it ignited what

would become the Great Rail Debate in Orange County.

The Great Rail Debate never equaled the ferocity of the Great

Airport Debate, but it started earlier, lasted longer and will

smolder for years to come, with an occasional flare-up along the way.

As is usually the case with Great Anything Debates, what you hear the

most usually comes from one end of the spectrum or the other. In this

case, it's the cement heads on one side, and the steel heads on the


What the cement heads say, among other things, is that CenterLine

is a total boondoggle. It will cost a zillion and a half dollars and

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