It has become a good bet. If it is an election year in Newport Beach, traffic and development policy are likely to be the major issues.
Despite the predictability, those issues nearly always provide this affluent coastal community with lively controversy. And this year’s election, which features three council races and a ballot measure, is no different.
Two years ago, Newport Beach voters defeated a proposal to allow a $300-million expansion of Newport Center that proponents had argued would actually improve traffic conditions because of promised road improvements.
This time, the controversy swirls around Measure K, the so-called traffic management initiative ordinance. Supporters argue that it would alleviate traffic congestion, but opponents call it a thinly veiled attempt to impose a building moratorium.
The measure aims to control development that would increase traffic levels by placing restrictions on new building permits. Permits would be granted only after a developer made needed traffic improvements.
Opponents of the measure contend that it is poorly written, would not improve traffic flow and would jeopardize homeowners’ rights by making it much harder to build additions and make other improvements.
The ballot measure carries no analysis by the city of its impact, but the City Council authorized an independent study of various technical aspects of the plan. The study offered no definitive conclusion about the measure’s impact on traffic levels.
The measure has emerged as a major issue among council candidates, who all profess to be for less congestion and moderate development in the city.
Two incumbents are among the eight candidates for seats in three council districts. Former Mayor Philip R. Maurer is not seeking reelection in District 5.
Here are the candidates:
Sterling H. Wolfe Jr., 47, owns a lumber business and was a member of the city’s Park, Beaches and Recreation Commission for 4 years. This is his first political campaign. Wolfe said his first order of business if elected would be to encourage more participation by residents in city government through a monthly council newsletter and regular community meetings.
Wolfe said he would also seek support for a city-operated teen center and more pump-out stations for boat sewage in Newport Bay. He is against Measure K because it is “unfair to individual property owners who want to remodel their homes and would have to go through a lot of bureaucracy” to get approval. “The intent is in the right direction but the way it is done is wrong,” he said.
Ninfa Jarvis O’Brien, 46, is a real-estate broker in her first council race. If elected, O’Brien would seek to restore a city-owned abandoned library building to public use as a senior center and start city-sponsored educational classes in her west Newport Beach district.
She agrees that traffic and growth are problems for the city but is against Measure K, arguing that it is too restrictive and that voters have not been given enough information about it to make an informed decision.
Dissatisfied with the way incumbent Ruthelyn Plummer has tended to the needs of her west Newport constituents, O’Brien said she would support elections in which voters in each district select council members.
Ruthelyn Plummer, 63, a two-term incumbent, is a retired business owner. She favors limiting expansion at John Wayne Airport and finding an alternative site for a major airport. She said she would also seek tougher penalties for bay polluters. Plummer opposes Measure K, arguing that it would not improve traffic flow in the city. “It would mean extra red tape, extra staff and extra delays” for homeowners, she said.
Geneva M. Matlock, 63, is a retired anesthesiologist in her first council race. Matlock is a member of SPON (Stop Polluting Our Newport), an environmental group that has fought some developments in the city. She said that if elected, she would press for more city parks and open space. Identifying traffic as the biggest issue facing the city, she said she supports Measure K and would propose synchronizing traffic lights on Coast Highway and major streets to relieve congestion.
Jean Watt, 61, a retired nurse, is co-founder of SPON. Watt said she would support a bond measure to fund preservation of open space, particularly the wetlands in the Santa Ana River Flood Control Project. She would also work to develop a city policy on recycling and would consider a city ordinance to limit pollutants.
She supports Measure K, saying it is the only way to reduce traffic. “Talk is cheap, but doing something tangible like passing effective (laws) is what has to happen,” she said.
Ralph M. Rodheim, 44, owns a public relations marketing company. He is a member of the board of directors of the city’s Chamber of Commerce. Citing a lack of activities for teens in the city, Rodheim said he would push for a teen center if elected. He would also propose a new central library and encourage funding of educational programs on water quality and pollution.
Rodheim, who has amassed the largest campaign war chest, including several contributions from developers, said he should not be considered “pro-development.” He said he favors redevelopment in older areas of the city like Balboa and McFadden Square but opposes new high-rises in the Newport Center area.
He is against Measure K, calling it a “no-growth” initiative. “It does not respond to traffic needs, and it is not good for residents because it attacks property owners,” he said.
Paul Ryckoff, 69, a retired businessman, is a former Newport Beach councilman and mayor. He is a member of SPON and co-author of Measure K.
Ryckoff says traffic is the most serious issue facing the city. He has outlined a seven-point program that he says will ease future congestion. Among the provisions are passage of Measure K and updating the city’s General Plan to be compatible with the initiative, limiting the amount of commercial building space per acre of land and limiting additional commuter traffic in residential areas.
Ryckoff was a leading opponent of the defeated Newport Center expansion measure in 1986 and has accused his opponent, incumbent John C. Cox Jr., of being “too pro-development.”
John C. Cox Jr., 49, has been on the council 8 years and is the mayor. Cox says transportation and housing are the major issues facing the city. He wants to limit expansion at John Wayne Airport and find another site for a major international airport. But he rejected what he terms “no-growth policies,” saying that “it has been proved in the last few years that not building roads does not work.”
Cox suggested two solutions to traffic congestion: the proposed connection of the San Joaquin Hills Road to the Corona del Mar Freeway and the completion of Pelican Hills Road. Cox opposes Measure K as “unnecessary, unreasonable and anti-development.” He argues that solutions to many problems facing the city must be achieved by a regional approach.
Two incumbents are among the eight candidates for seats in three council districts in the Nov. 8 election. A photograph of Sterling A. Wolfe Jr., a candidate in the 2nd District, was not available. District 2