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Voters will remember who supports high-density development

The political landscape in Costa Mesa and Newport Beach has usually reflected trends.

One trend evident with voters in both cities in the past two election cycles has been opposition to high-density development.

The difference between these cities moving forward is that Costa Mesa has had a power shift to support that direction with the reelection of Councilwoman Sandy Genis and Councilman-elect John Stephens.

But in Newport, the fight continues with the high-rise Museum House approved this week by its City Council.

If you think the 2016 Newport council races were nasty, the fight over this project could get just as ugly.

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And it's already started, as evidenced by a misleading ad taken out by OCMA Urban Housing LLC, an Irvine-based division of Related California dedicated to the Museum House project.

It used a quote from Line in the Sand supporter Susan Skinner, making it look like she supports the project, even though she is publicly opposed.

This misleading tactic is eerily familiar to one used this past election, where a mailer against Newport council candidates Jeff Herdman and Phil Greer, both endorsed by Line in the Sand, stated it was time to draw a line in the sand against them.

This questionable play-on-words strategy shows me there are those who fear Line in the Sand's influence — and its efforts against high-density development.

During the election I heard development supporters refer to Line in the Sand and founder Jean Watt as "noise in the background" and "housewife politics."

Say what you will about Line in the Sand and Watt, but it does have an extremely organized ground game.

And I'd be cautious about underestimating what "housewives" can accomplish when they put their minds to it, as we saw in 2014, when Line in the Sand helped defeat Measure Y.

But Line in the Sand has an uphill battle now that the City Council has approved the Museum House project.

The only recourse to stop it is a referendum effort, which means it'll need to gather 8,000 signatures in the next 30 days to put this to a vote of the people.

I checked with my neighbor Tim Stoaks, a member of the group. He said the council's vote wasn't surprising.

In anticipation of the yes vote, for the past month Line in The Sand has been securing permission to put signature-gathering tables in front of all the major supermarkets in the area.

Line in the Sand's website, lineinthesandpac.com, is compiling a list of private homes, where folks can sign petitions in a more private setting.

Referendums usually occur when a tone-deaf council is out of touch with constituent reality.

It's something we've seen before, and each time it results in council members writing their own tickets to political oblivion, come next election cycle.

It happened in 2014 with Newport Mayor Rush Hill and this past season with Costa Mesa Mayor Steve Mensinger.

One could argue history is about to repeat itself.

Pushing through an important issue at the end of the calendar year hasn't gone over well with voters in the past.

Remember the infamous dock fees that were pushed forward at the end of the year and the basis for the rise of Team Newport's campaign in 2014 resulting in Hill's ouster?

I find it ironic that the same "team" is now pushing forward the controversial high-density Museum House project during this holiday season.

So how do I see this shaking out in the long game in Newport?

If the referendum goes to voters, I see it passing, based on the anti-high density development temperament we saw in the last two election cycles.

And the fact that the Irvine Co. is against this project too is even more of a red flag here.

There's no doubt the Museum House will bring millions in revenue to the city, but at what price is it OK for a council to change the very nature of this beach city solely for money?

It's not like Newport's broke.

2018 is another key election year here, and the majority of Team Newport — council members Diane Dixon, Scott Peotter, Marshall "Duffy" Duffield and Kevin Muldoon — are all up for reelection.

2017 is when the field of those considering running against incumbents starts to take shape and garner support.

With that in mind, council members took a huge gamble with their political futures backing this project, and one that might have sealed their political fates.

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BARBARA VENEZIA lives in Newport Beach. She can be reached at bvontv1@gmail.com.

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