5 Hot Debates to Watch This Week

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Here’s a rundown of the main issues we’ll be tracking this week throughout Orange County.

Is there something happening next week we should know about? Let us know!

1. Santa Ana Streetcar Route to Be Chosen

A large turnout of supporters and opponents is expected Tuesday when Santa Ana city council members decide which route a proposed streetcar will take through the city.

City staff is recommending the streetcar travel down Fourth Street, also known as Alternative 1. It’s a route that proponents say will bolster local business, but has also brought opposition from many Fourth Street businesses.

Overall, both proposed routes would start at the Santa Ana train station and ultimately reach Garden Grove.

More than 200 local residents and business owners have signed a petition against the Fourth Street route, according to people involved in the signature gathering.

Among those listed in opposition are more than 70 local businesses, including restaurants, bridal shops, travel agencies, jewelry stores, beauty salons and mobile phone shops along the proposed Fourth Street route.

Concerns include the impact of construction on business, not being contacted as part of outreach efforts, as well as the potential removal of street parking on Fourth Street.

Many of the shop owners say they want the streetcar to run down Fifth Street instead.

Supporters of the route, meanwhile, say the Fourth Street route has an advantage because it features better architecture, historic buildings and more street activity than Fifth Street.

“At the end of the day the streetcar will be bringing a lot of people and attention to the area, and [Fourth Street] would be best to showcase the heart of the Downtown rather than a secondary street,” said downtown developer Ryan Chase.

“I think the project’s a no-brainer.”

City staff said they conducted an extensive outreach campaign that went above and beyond the legal requirements.

And Interim Public Works Director William Galvez has said the city can’t reply to the questions or concerns from public meetings until October or November because of the environmental review process.

The streetcar issue is scheduled toward the end of Tuesday’s council meeting, which starts sometime after 5:45 p.m. Click here to read the staff report.

2. North Orange County Prepares for Fracking Forum

Controversy over the oil drilling method known as fracking continues to heat up in north Orange County, with local residents and city councils gearing up for a forum next month on the issue.

This week, La Habra city staff are asking council members whether they want to co-sponsor the forum, scheduled for Sept. 23 at 6 p.m. at Cal State Fullerton’s Titan Student Union building.

And in Yorba Linda, city staff are recommending that their City Council co-sponsor the event.

The two city councils meet Tuesday at 6:30 p.m.

Some advocates are also expected to speak at Tuesday’s Brea City Council meeting, which starts at 7 p.m.

Next month’s forum is slated to bring together experts and industry representatives on the science and regulatory rules on fracking.

The forum was requested by Fullerton city officials after fracking sparked community concerns there and across North County several months ago.

Data from state water officials shows that six oil wells have been fracked in Yorba Linda, some of which are in the middle of residential neighborhoods.

Residents in north Orange County are starting to organize against fracking, which has also been conducted near homes just north of Brea.

The debate comes amid a nationwide debate over fracking, known officially as hydraulic fracturing.

As it becomes more and more difficult for oil and gas to be extracted through traditional methods, companies have been turning to fracking, which involves injecting a high-pressure mix of water, sand and chemicals underground to break up rock formations containing fuel.

The method has been praised as the possible trigger for an economic boom that will create millions of jobs nationwide and help shift America off of its dependence on foreign energy sources.

But fracking has also come under intense scrutiny for its environmental impacts. Communities close to natural gas fracking operations in the northeast U.S. have found their groundwater wells to be contaminated with chemicals and methane. The documentary “Gasland” shows now infamous video of residents turning their kitchen faucets into gas torches by lighting the running water on fire.

In preparation for next month’s forum, concerned residents are preparing detailed questions about fracking and its potential impacts, according to Brea-based blogger and commentator Rick Clark.

Clark says he and others will be watching closely to check for potential biases among the expert panelists, not all of whom have been announced.

“I don’t care if they frack or not,” said Clark. “I want the people who make that decision, whether we’re talking about a local city council…or the state or the feds – I want them to have all the information to make an informed decision.”

More information about the forum is available here.

Questions for panelists can be submitted to frackingsymp@fullerton.edu will be vetted by forum moderator Dr. David Bowman, interim dean of the university’s College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics.

3. Santa Ana’s Bike License Law Up for Debate

Following news reports about a little-known bike licensing requirement in the city, Santa Ana council members plan to discuss their city’s bike licensing and ticketing policies on Tuesday.

Councilwoman Michele Martinez, who has been the chief advocate for bike-friendliness on the council, requested the discussion.

Santa Ana’s municipal code bans cycling on a bike that hasn’t been registered with the city, a requirement that is apparently little-known in the city of 330,000, many of whom are working-class Latinos who ride bikes.

A police officer recently told a judge that “probably a very low percentage” of bikes in the city are registered.

Proponents of license requirements have argued registration makes it easier to recover stolen bikes. Cycling advocates, meanwhile, say the laws are too often abused by police to cite cyclists who are unaware of the requirement.

The city of Long Beach, which many biking advocates consider a regional leader on bike-friendliness, eliminated its bike license requirement in 2011. Los Angeles ended its licensing mandate in 2009.

The issue received considerable attention last week when homeless advocate Igmar Rodas was successful in fighting a citation he received for riding his bicycle without a bike license.

A judge said his bike was apparently subjected to an unlawful search when Officer Salvador Lopez flipped it over to look for a license.

Rodas and fellow homeless advocate Larry Smith plan to ask for an end to the ban.

The issue has prompted commentary from local residents, including at least one Letter to the Editor submission to the Orange County Register.

“After reading about countless bicyclists being killed by automobiles, I stopped riding in the street and now ride exclusively on sidewalks instead,” wrote Irvine resident John Jaeger.

“I did a google search on bicyclists killed by automobiles and got around 100,000 hits. I don’t want to be the next dead bicyclist. Just yield way to pedestrians and carriages and there is never a problem. Go fifty feet in the grass. Stop if necessary.”

Council members have the authority to amend their city’s bike laws – or eliminate them entirely.

At least 20 bike license tickets have been issued in Santa Ana since last July, according to police department records provided through a Public Records Act request.

Of those, six were issued in the city’s Civic Center:

Before the council’s discussion of the issue Tuesday, they will take public comment on it.

The discussion is scheduled toward the end of Tuesday’s council meeting, which starts sometime after 5:45 p.m.

4. Garden Grove Students to Attend Leadership Conference

Students at Garden Grove Unified School District are eligible to attend a conference on civil rights, community advocacy, social justice and other topics later this week.

The student-led Latinos Unidos Summer Conference “will provide GGUSD high school students with the opportunity to learn about the historical and cultural perspective of the Latino community. Breakout sessions will explore several topics, including Mendez v. Westminster, Chicano studies, advocacy, community service, social justice and personal leadership”, according to a news release.

“Mexican-American activist and businessman Rueben Martinez will serve as the keynote speaker and Sylvia Mendez will facilitate a breakout session. Mendez is the daughter of Gonzalo Mendez, a Mexican immigrant, and Felicitas Mendez, a Puerto Rican immigrant, who fought for equal education through the landmark court case Mendez v. Westminster,” the news release said.

The 1946 federal court Mendez v. Westminster decision challenged segregation of California schools. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled It was unconstitutional to require Hispanic students to attend separate “Mexican schools.”

According to the release, speakers will include Superintendent Gabriela Mafi, Senior Manager of Education for the Orange County United Way and Westminster City Councilman Sergio Contreras, Associate Professor and Chair of the CSUF Chicana and Chicano Studies Department Alexandro José Gradilla and motivational speaker Vincent Bello.

“Free transportation is available for high school students within the district. To register for the event or for more information, email Dr. Eimi Garcia at egarcia@ggusd.us.”

The event is sponsored by the school district and Orange County United Way.

It will be held at Mihaylo hall at Cal State Fullerton on Thursday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. More details available here.

5. Candidate Deadline Coming Up for November Election

Friday is the countywide deadline for candidates to file for the November election, and much attention is focused on Santa Ana’s mayoral race.

Multiple political insiders say State Sen. Lou Correa is considering a run for Santa Ana mayor while incumbent Mayor Miguel Pulido is mulling a possible retirement — two decisions that should they become real would set in motion the most significant changing of the guard in the city’s politics since the Clinton years.

Neither of them is known to have filed for the office as of last week.

Candidates have until Friday to file their election papers, unless the incumbent does not file by that date. If the incumbent doesn’t file, the deadline for other candidates will be extended until the following Wednesday, Aug. 13.

Last-minute filers might show up to the county Registrar of Voter’s office ahead of their 5 p.m. closing on Friday.

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

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