Newport ponders major drainage upgrade for flood-prone Balboa Island

Newport Beach city workers pump storm water off Sapphire Avenue at North Bay Front on Balboa Island during a downpour in December. The city is considering modernizing and automating the island’s 1930s-era drainage system over the next several years.
(File Photo)

Anyone who has been on Balboa Island during a hard rain knows the streets can flood.

The city of Newport Beach is considering replacing the island’s 1930s-era drainage system with several automated below-ground pumps. That would save on labor and costs associated with manually opening the tide gates at the end of streets and sending out portable pumps and slicker-clad city workers to dump excess storm water into the bay.

A modernized drainage system designed for a 100-year storm and potential sea level rise would operate around the clock, reduce flooding and possible property damage and improve water quality by screening storm flow, city Public Works Director Dave Webb told the City Council during its annual planning session Saturday.

Webb estimated the upgrade would cost $10 million to $15 million over 10 years.

Though it’s not clear when the proposed project would take place, it would be in conjunction with a planned paving overhaul of Marine Avenue, the island’s main commercial route, according to a broad capital improvement plan the city adopted last summer. The city intends to begin conceptualizing the Marine Avenue project later this year and begin construction in 2020 or 2021.

An enhanced drainage system and a reconstructed Marine Avenue would be the latest of several major infrastructure projects recently completed, underway or planned for the near future on the densely populated island, which actually is an archipelago consisting of a main island, a “little” island and the tiny Collins Island.

Since 2017, Balboa Island has received a new bridge connecting the main and “little” portions, seawall caps, a new water main, and dredging of the northerly stretch of the Grand Canal. Residents also have approved placing utilities underground on the island’s west side.

Webb suggested the city begin planning several other potential capital improvement projects, including upgrades to the Newport Pier wharf area, which last had a major rehabilitation in 1990. Others include beautifying the Old Newport Boulevard business district, repaving Ocean Boulevard between Carnation and Goldenrod avenues in Corona del Mar and adding a small outlook off Dahlia Avenue.

City department heads also floated these ideas for service enhancements:

  • Increasing motorcycle officers on the street enforcing traffic safety from eight daily to 10. Motorcycle officers wrote 5,700 citations and handled 1,750 collision reports last year, according to Police Chief Jon Lewis. Adding two more officers would increase coverage by 10 hours per day, with a focus on school zones and other traffic hot spots, he said.
  • Hiring another worker to backfill general code enforcement matters after sending one staff member to focus on the recently reconstituted Harbor Department. By hiring another full-time worker and increasing the hours of one part-time worker to full time, the code enforcement office could increase productivity by 1,000 cases per year and be proactive rather than reactive, according to Community Development Director Seimone Jurjis.