5 Hot Stories You Won’t Want to Miss

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Here’s a rundown of the five hottest stories developing this week at city halls and public agencies throughout Orange County.

Is there something happening in your city we should know about? Let us know.

Bike Deaths Prompt Community Workshop

With cyclists continuing to be killed and injured on local roads and public demand growing for bike-friendly areas, local officials have decided it’s time to have a broad, in-depth talk with bicycle advocates about how to boost safety.

At a Monday workshop in Irvine held by the Orange County Transportation Authority, Supervisors Chairman Shawn Nelson, Irvine Councilman Jeff Lalloway and Supervisor Todd Spitzer plan to lead a conference with law enforcement leaders and cycling activists to hash out concrete steps for making biking safer in Orange County.

Among other factors, last summer’s death of former Westminster Police Chief James “Mitch” Waller has been cited by local officials as underscoring the need for better bike safety infrastructure.

Waller was killed by a passing car while riding his bicycle along Laguna Canyon Road.

A former Orange County sheriff’s employee, Matthew Liechty, also was killed in February by a passing car while riding his bike in Huntington Beach.

When it comes to safety, bike advocates generally encourage education campaigns for drivers and cyclists as well as creating separation between bikes and moving cars.

That can include creating separated bike lanes on major streets — as Long Beach has done in parts of its downtown — or “bike boulevards” on parallel side streets.

In Long Beach’s, city officials said bike accidents dropped 80 percent in the year after their installation, with vehicle-on-vehicle accidents also decreasing significantly:

Creating more bike-friendly communities was also the subject of a presentation in Santa Ana last week by a leading national advocate.

Organizers hope to gather suggestions from the community “that can be turned into workable solutions for making Orange County a more bicycle-friendly community,” according to an OCTA press release.

The workshop runs Monday from 5 to 7 p.m. at Irvine City Hall.

Santa Ana Devotes $2 Million to Strategic City Spending Plan

Flush with extra cash for the first time in recent times, Santa Ana officials are set to designate $2.3 million in spending on programs to start implementing their recently approved strategic city spending plan.

A city-provided list includes 17 possible strategies for spending the funds, which include expanding afterschool and youth sports programs, creating a city volunteer and internship program and the creation of a youth development plan.

(Click here to read the list of potential strategies, which starts on page 3.)

Tuesday’s council meeting starts at 5:45 p.m.

Future of Transportation Is Up for Debate

As Orange County continues to grow, should officials keep expanding freeways or start refocusing on public transit and biking?

Those kinds of questions are front and center this morning as Orange County Transportation Authority board members debate their Long Range Transportation Plan, which will outline investments over the next 20 years.

Common requests from the public, according to OCTA, include developing bike and pedestrian safety programs, synchronizing stoplights, improving transit connections and speeding up carpool lanes.

Another theme is developing “faster mass transit solutions and include innovative solutions, such as real-time passenger information and electronic ticketing to encourage commuters to use transit,” according to an OCTA staff report.

The debate over transportation investments also comes as traffic congestion continues to worsen on many local freeways and streets.

Funding for freeway projects are dwindling at the state and national levels.

The federal Highway Trust Fund is close to going bankrupt, with federal officials saying it could start bouncing checks this summer.

And at the state level, Caltrans has been described by an OCTA board member as being “way in the hole” on maintenance funding.

The state’s highway system needs about $8 billion for maintenance each year, according to Caltrans, yet only about $2 billion is expected to be available.

“The percentage of lane miles of highway pavement in a distressed condition, which is pavement with significant rutting, cracking, potholes, or other signs of deterioration, is projected to increase during the next 10 years,” the state agency declared in a report last year.

Federal law is also now mandating that traffic be sped up in congested carpool lanes.

As OCTA officials confront that challenge, they’ve suggested putting toll lanes on freeways or requiring at least three occupants for a car to drive in the carpool lane.

OCTA Director John Moorlach, meanwhile, has suggested ramping up bus service on freeways, though that idea hasn’t gained traction among his colleagues.

As for the long-range plan, board members are expected to discuss it Monday before it’s released for public comment.

The final plan is expected to be approved in September and will ultimately end up in the Southern California Association of Government’s 2016 Regional Transportation Plan/Sustainable Communities Strategy.

Monday’s meeting starts at 9 a.m. at OCTA headquarters. Click here to read a copy of the draft plan.

Is It Time for Santa Ana to Update Utility Tax?

Santa Ana voters could decide in November whether to slightly lower their utility taxes while also killing the maximum cap.

If council members decide to move forward Tuesday, the ballot measure would drop the tax from 6 percent to 5.5 percent and eliminate the maximum cap of $11,000, according to a city staff report.

It’s unclear how many customers would be affected by the cap’s elimination. City staff said the ultimate effect of the changes would not affect their revenues this next fiscal year.

The utility tax accounts for $24 million per year in city revenues, making it the third-largest funding source to the city.

Click here for the staff report.

Charter Changes in Santa Ana?

As a charter city, Santa Ana has much greater control over how its municipal government is structured.

And that structure could be up for a change, with a temporary committee on the issue possibly being established this week.

Councilmen David Benavides and Vince Sarmiento have asked their colleagues to set up an ad hoc committee to study recommendations of a 2006 charter review committee along with any other suggested changes.

Any changes would ultimately go to voters, as is required by state law.

Major Meetings This Week:

Monday

Tuesday

Wednesday

See something interesting in the agendas? Let us know!

Adam Elmahrek contributed to this post.

You can reach Nick Gerda at ngerda@gmail.com, and follow him on Twitter: @nicholasgerda.

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