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Council tables traffic deal

In a surprise move that elicited applause from the audience, the Costa Mesa City Council put off making a decision on a traffic agreement with the developer of Banning Ranch.

The agreement is a modified version of one that was approved by the council last summer. Consequently, it was subject to another council vote.

The agreement stipulates that Newport Banning Ranch LLC give Costa Mesa about $4.38 million toward mitigating the anticipated increased traffic from the Newport Beach development. The proposed project calls for as many as 1,375 homes, commercial space, parkland and a small hotel.

It has Newport’s endorsement but still needs approval from other agencies, including the California Coastal Commission.

Councilwoman Sandy Genis made the motion to table the item, which was approved on a 4-0 vote. Councilwoman Wendy Leece, who lives in a Westside neighborhood near the Banning Ranch land, abstained.

Genis also suggested that the city join the Banning Ranch Conservancy in the legal battle against the project. Among its goals, the conservancy seeks to maintain the 400-acre West Newport parcel as permanent open space.

“I think it would be a good sign to the public,” Genis said. “I think it would help ensure the rights of Costa Mesa residents to be protected from the impact of Banning Ranch, and I think it is what our residents deserve.”

Mayor Jim Righeimer said in response to Genis’ suggestion that doing so would have to be discussed in closed session.

Last summer the agreement’s earlier version — which, despite council approval, was never actually signed — spurred the ire of some Westside residents who have opposed the Banning Ranch development on various quality-of-life issues, among them traffic congestion. They also criticized the agreement’s waiving of Costa Mesa’s right to future litigation against the project.

The adjusted agreement, among its changes, stipulates that Costa Mesa could “retain all rights to opposition to the overall project” except when it comes to traffic, according to a city staff report.

Recently retired city administrator Peter Naghavi was scheduled to give a presentation on the deal, which he worked on toward the end of his tenure as the city’s economic and development director and deputy chief executive.

Naghavi said he had worked with Genis on the agreement over the past four to five months and thought he had her full support on it. He called the council’s decision an “overall loss to the city” and a “total surprise.”

He said it’s unlikely that anyone would spend millions of dollars to clean up the land just to make it open space.

“I actually came out of my retirement to just make this presentation tonight,” Naghavi said, “but I understand politics sometimes have their own path. I have learned to understand that and I wish them all the very best. But this was my last effort on this project.”

As of press time, the council was still making selections to the charter creation committee and had not yet voted on outsourcing the city jail.


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