Newport Beach ratifies local emergency regarding oil spill

Employees with West Coast Environmental Solutions clean sand at the mouth of the Santa Ana River.
Employees with West Coast Environmental Solutions clean sand covered in oil into plastic bags at the mouth of the Santa Ana River on Oct. 4, 2021.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

The Newport Beach City Council ratified on Tuesday night the local emergency declared by City Manager Grace Leung earlier this month in response to the Huntington Beach oil spill.

“The local emergency ... is really to help in terms of ... costs that go into any kind of emergency response, which we did assemble very quickly to do and will continue to do so,” said Leung at the council meeting. “This will certainly assist us with getting reimbursement from either federal and other agencies and helps if we need some procurement in a timely fashion.”

Other coastal cities impacted by the spill, such as neighboring Huntington Beach and Laguna Beach, have also declared local emergencies. City beaches fully reopened in Newport Beach on Monday, and Newport Harbor reopened last Friday.

State Atty. Gen. Rob Bonta announced Monday that the California Department of Justice will be investigating the oil spill, first reported Oct. 3. The cause and full extent of the damage remains unknown.

During the meeting, council members also unanimously voted in favor of a resolution announcing the intent to override a determination by the Airport Land Use Commission that stated the city’s draft housing element was inconsistent with the Airport Environs Land Use Plans for John Wayne Airport due to noise, safety and land use incompatibility.

The city is required by the state to zone for 4,834 housing units in its plans for the next decade, according to Newport Beach’s assigned Regional Housing Needs Assessment numbers by the Southern California Assn. of Governments. The city is among nearly half the cities in Orange County in objecting to the numbers SCAG has assigned to it, though all appeals to the agency have been denied.

The City Council will next be required to hold a second public hearing to officially override the determination by the Airport Land Use Commission.

Additionally during the meeting, council members agreed unanimously in an informal straw poll in favor of a proposed ballot measure that would allow voters to decide whether or not residents should elect a mayor. Councilman Noah Blom proposed that a measure be brought to voters either in the upcoming primary or general midterm election in 2022.

Councilman Will O’Neill brought forward the “Elect Our Mayor” proposal in September and has been instrumental in a campaign promoting the idea.

Volunteers are currently collecting signatures to meet the 9,000 required to put the item on the ballot, O’Neill confirmed Thursday.

Newport Beach does not currently vote for its mayor, and the position is largely ceremonial, exchanged between council members at the end of the calendar year.

City spokesman John Pope said the straw poll taken at Tuesday’s meeting was unofficial and means that a formal item will be brought forward at the next council meeting on Oct. 26. At least four of the seven sitting council members must vote in favor of the item to move the process forward, which would make gathering signatures unnecessary.

Residents who spoke during public comment at the meeting largely spoke out against the proposed ballot measure.

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