NEWPORT BEACH — The Corona del Mar Citizens Advisory Panel unanimously agreed recently to support a plan that would merge traffic from three to two lanes between Avocado Avenue and MacArthur Boulevard along East Coast Highway.
The plan would cost 12 or 13 street parking spots but expand by 21 feet an area that could be used for landscaping, outdoor cafe seating and other improvements to the Corona del Mar entryway.
"It looks like a great plan," said panelist Ron Yeo of Corona del Mar.
Bernie Svalstad, a panelist who also has worked on the Corona del Mar Business Improvement District's Vision Plan, agreed.
"It's exactly what we proposed the whole time," he said. "I think this is excellent."
City staff said plans to move the squeeze further west, between Irvine Terrace and Avocado, could have conflicted with the Orange County Transportation Authority's master plan that states how many lanes must be available in that segment of roadway.
By moving the squeeze between Avocado and MacArthur, the lanes would count technically as full lanes although they are merging, said Tony Brine, the city's traffic engineer. If the city is not in compliance with the OCTA master plan, he said, it could lose county funding.
"Conceptually, this is our best shot at what we should be working on," said Dennis Stone, the city's project consultant.
Assistant City Engineer Mike Sinacori told the group that the plan would allow for expansion of the median in that stretch of Coast Highway, making it large enough to plant trees or add other landscaping.
The group still needs to consider what to do with the extra room, which will stretch toward Dahlia Avenue. Sinacori said that along the MacArthur stretch, a barricade or planter would need to be placed to buffer pedestrians from traffic moving from MacArthur onto Coast Highway.
Members discussed whether the Coastal Commission would have to approve proposed changes, but Newport Beach Planner Jim Campbell said he believed the city could go forward without Coastal Commission involvement.
Landscape and hardscape proposals will be presented to the group for discussion at its next meeting, scheduled for Dec. 21. After that, the group plans to hold public hearings and possibly invite business and property owners in the affected area to get their input.
"There are a lot of steps to this process," Stone said.