Newport Beach City Council reverses course, agrees to accept gas tax funds

Strong public criticism convinced the Newport Beach City Council Thursday to apply for revenue sharing from the upcoming state gas tax hike.

It reversed an earlier council stance that rejected seeking the funds to send a message to state lawmakers

Council members made it clear that whether or not they oppose the tax – and the disapproving sentiment is what drove five of them in August to vote, on principle, against applying for about $480,000 in proceeds to improve local roads – they now better understand that their constituents will soon be paying more at the pump, and they should get some of that money back through street repairs.

“Our refusal to accept these funds will not reduce or eliminate the new tax,” said Councilman Jeff Herdman, one of the five initial no votes and the councilman who requested the reconsideration.

The tax, which raises the base gas tax by 12 cents a gallon and increases vehicle license fees, will take effect on Nov. 1 and will fund road, bridge and transit projects statewide over 10 years.

In Newport, the first, $481,309 disbursement would go toward repaving MacArthur Boulevard/University Drive.

The city has until Oct. 12 to submit its application. If approved, the funds would be doled out next year.

City staff estimates next year’s share at about $1.4 million. The money will supplement, not supplant, existing funds.

Councilman Scott Peotter, another earlier no vote, also did an about-face.

He maintained that the tax is bad, regressive policy, but “we’ll just figure out a different way to combat that.”

At the Aug. 8 meeting, Peotter and Herdman, plus Mayor Kevin Muldoon, Mayor Pro-Tem Marshall “Duffy” Duffield and Councilman Will O’Neill voted against applying for the funds.

Council members Diane Dixon and Brad Avery voted in favor.

The council voted unanimously at Thursday’s meeting, which Muldoon called to just address the gas tax issue, to pursue the funds.

Former Assemblywoman Marilyn Brewer, a Newport Beach resident, said elected officials’ highest responsibility is a fiduciary duty.

“We, the citizens of Newport Beach, pay that money. It’s our money,” she said. “It belongs to the city of Newport. It belongs to its residents. We want our roads fixed.”

Avery said he voted in favor despite not liking the tax, but said everyone on the council wants to do the right thing.

“It’s tough to make these votes in the heat of the moment,” he said. “We do let our own thoughts and our own perceptions of good government influence us.”

The gas tax divided the Legislature on party lines, and Republicans remain hopeful it can be repealed, possibly with a statewide referendum.

Muldoon said the more effective way to send a message to legislators is to support the movement to repeal. He pledged to privately donate $1,000 toward those efforts and encouraged his colleagues to do the same.

Duffield said he sees half hour-long lines at Costco, where gasoline is usually less expensive than at other gas stations, as evidence that motorists are looking for ways to save on fuel.

“I appreciate all the emails that were sent to me,” he said. “I read them all, and we do listen.”

Dixon also praised the feedback as direct democracy.

“Sacramento and Washington are difficult to deal with these days but in your local government you have a voice, and your voice counts,” she said.

hillary.davis@latimes.com

Twitter: @Daily_PilotHD

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