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NEWPORT BEACH : Trade Group Vows to Oppose Land Deal

Backed by a survey that suggests overwhelming opposition among business people to a $58-million land-acquisition measure on the November ballot, the Newport Harbor Area Chamber of Commerce announced Monday that it will oppose the environmental project.

Out of 187 business and commercial property owners who responded to a Chamber of Commerce survey, 80% said they “strongly oppose” the public acquisition of three parcels that overlook the Upper Newport Bay, the chamber said. Six percent said they “somewhat” oppose it.

In recent weeks, about 1,200 survey forms were mailed to businesses.

“It is a strong response,” said Richard Luehrs, president of the chamber. “The business community’s concern today is that this is just something that we cannot afford. It is like buying a Rolls-Royce"--a nice car but a bit on the expensive side.

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Under the terms of a proposed assessment district created by Measure A, all single-family residences in Newport Beach would pay $120 per year for 30 years to finance the purchase of 138 acres of Irvine Co. land that surround the bay. Commercial property owners would pay $120 annually for every 2,000 square feet of space.

For the measure to pass, Newport Beach residents must approve it with a 60% vote in November.

Local environmentalists want city taxpayers to buy the Newporter North and the Upper and Lower Castaways properties instead of allowing the Irvine Co. to build 363 townhomes as planned. Most of the land would be preserved as open space, while a small portion would become an athletic field and parking lot.

Luehrs said that the chamber will help finance a public campaign against the measure that may include newspaper advertisements, mailings to Newport Beach residents and donations to the Newport Taxpayers Alliance, the only other organized opposition group.

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“The assessment district would amount to another tax on business that cannot be tolerated in today’s economic environment,” said Dennis O’Neil, an Irvine lawyer who is chairman of the chamber’s board of directors.

But Jean Watt, president of the Newport Conservancy, an environmental group that negotiated the public acquisition with the Irvine Co., said that the chamber and local business people who oppose the project should take a wider view of the project and realize that it is worth the cost to taxpayers.

“I think it is too bad they can’t see the relative insignificance of this amount (as compared to) the long-term benefit,” Watt said. “The perspective they are putting on it is shadowed by the current economy, and the problem is that this is a long-term thing.”


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