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Voters will be asked whether to approve borrowing for high-ticket items but there is only one project on the horizon

Voters will be asked whether to approve borrowing for high-ticket items but there is only one project on the horizon
The Upper Bay could be due another major dredging in 2030, an expensive project, but not expected to be enough to trigger a voter approval under a proposed ballot proposition, assuming the city decides to use certificates of participation. (File Photo)

An initiative planned for Newport Beach’s November ballot asks voters if they want the City Council to seek individual approvals for any municipal construction projects that could require at least $50 million in financing through a method known as certificates of participation.

Only the biggest projects would qualify for that level of approval, but major capital projects under the $50-million threshold could still potentially be funded through certificates of participation, or COPs, at City Council discretion. In the relatively near future, that’s probably only one undertaking: a new police station, 14 years off.

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The council agreed Tuesday to put a question on the November ballot asking whether voters would amend the city charter to require individual approvals to issue lease-revenue bonds, such as COPs, for capital projects needing to be financed for more than $50 million. Individual project approvals would require at least 55% of a vote.

In a COP arrangement, the city creates a lease stream by essentially leasing its own facilities back to itself — technically, itself as a different public facilities corporation created to hold the facilities — with the facilities offered as collateral to its bondholders. When the debt is repaid, the facilities become the agency’s — unencumbered by a lease.

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Here are facility replacements and other projects tentatively planned for the next 20 years, and whether they would be covered under the potential new rule if debt issuances are needed. This assumes land is included and no cash is used:

Project: Balboa Yacht Basin slips

Start year: 2022

Estimated cost at start year, with inflation: $7.2 million

Voter approval for COPs?: No

The Balboa Yacht Basin is a city-owned marina just north of Balboa Island.

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Project: Balboa Island seawalls

Start year: 2026-2031-2037

Estimated cost: $69.8 million total

Voter approval for COPs?: No

The city has envisioned the replacement of Balboa Island’s publicly maintained seawalls, which help protect from flooding during especially high tides, as having three start dates over 11 years and ranging in cost from about $20 million to $26 million per stage — and adding up to nearly $70 million.

The proposed charter amendment, however, exempts voter approval to replace infrastructure damaged by a natural disaster or that, if it failed under any circumstance, would cause material damage to the property of others. The seawalls fall under the latter provision.

The city added 9-inch concrete caps to the current seawalls, which are about 80 to 90 years old, at a cost of about $1.8 million earlier this year as an interim measure.

Cracking on a Balboa Island seawall, as seen in 2015.
Cracking on a Balboa Island seawall, as seen in 2015. (File Photo)

Project: Dredging, Upper Bay catch basins

Start year: 2030

Estimated cost: $20.2 million

Voter approval for COPs?: No

And

Project: Dredging, Upper Bay channels

Start year: 2030

Estimated cost: $11.1 million

Voter approval for COPs?: No

The city last did a major dredge of Upper Newport Bay between 2006 and 2010, removing more than 1.8 million cubic yards of sediment.

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Project: Police station

Start year: 2032

Estimated cost: $76.7 million

Voter approval for COPs?: Yes

This is the facility most frequently mentioned as a key improvement that could have to get past voters.

The police station, at 870 Santa Barbara Drive, would be about 60 years old by the time the city starts working on its replacement in 2032. In the meantime, the Newport Center building is getting a series of refreshes: earlier this year, the City Council approved about half a million dollars in major interior remodels, including updated lighting, ceiling tiles, a new electrical system and paint, and about $440,000 in new furniture and fixtures. The city is also planning to spend about $1.35 million this year to remodel the bathrooms and locker room and upgrade the shooting range.

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Project: Lifeguard headquarters

Start year: 2038

Estimated cost: $8 million

Voter approval for COPs?: No

The lifeguard HQ is at Newport Pier.

The city last used the COP funding mechanism in 2010 for the Civic Center and Park, a $140-million undertaking that was completed in 2013 with about $17 million in cash and $123 million in COPs. The city expects to pay off the Civic Center in 2041.

Before that, the city took out $7.5 million in COPs for the Central Library in 1992.

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