A split Costa Mesa City Council moved ahead with a potential new multipurpose trail along the Paularino Channel this week over the objection of some residents who alleged it would bring transients, vandals and criminals closer to their backyards.
The council voted 5-2 Tuesday — with members Allan Mansoor and Sandy Genis opposed because of financial concerns — to award a contract to Newport Beach-based BKF Engineers to take on community engagement and conceptual engineering design for the project.
The envisioned path, on the county-maintained open flood control channel between Pinecreek Drive and Bristol Street, is part of a broader plan the council approved last year that includes almost 54 total miles of proposed new multiuse paths, bike trails and lanes aimed at improving Costa Mesa’s “active transportation” network.
The Paularino trail would cover about three-quarters of a mile and be roughly 15 feet wide.
Major projects like this are subject to additional public review — which, as was the case when the council considered the full transportation plan, hinged on safety.
Mesa del Mar resident John Merrill lives one house away from the trail — “or, as my neighbors like to call it, the ‘Homeless Highway,’” he said. That also was the name of an online petition opposing the concept that he held up as he spoke to the council.
He questioned the overall price tag of the project — which city Public Services Director Raja Sethuraman estimated would be at least $3.2 million — and said the trail would be narrow with limited access points for police.
“Kill it just like you killed the Tanager trail,” Merrill said, referencing a formerly proposed path along the northern boundary of the Costa Mesa Country Club behind homes on Tanager Drive that the city has since abandoned following fierce community opposition.
Sethuraman said outreach like the kind envisioned in the just-awarded contract would increase the likelihood that the city will win grants to fund its construction.
The contract, valued at $150,000 total, will include six public outreach meetings, as well as presentations before the Bikeway & Walkability Committee and City Council.
But that amount “could be a new police officer,” Mansoor said.
Council members retained the Paularino concept with the provision that it be pursued only if nearby residences can be adequately buffered.
Resident Michelle Figueredo-Wilson, a real estate agent, said neighbors don’t want it in their backyard.
“While I do support the city’s strategy to make us more accountable to the environment and improve our transportation methods, my market analysis and discussion with several appraisers concludes that homeowners along this trail would experience negative impacts to their property values,” said Figueredo-Wilson, a 2018 council candidate. “I met with homeowners that share the property line with this wash and they asserted that they would have not purchased their home had they known this was being planned.”
But Ralph Taboada, a member of the city Bikeway & Walkability Committee, said the trail “is exactly what Costa Mesa needs.”
Brian Estrada, who also lives in the Mesa del Mar neighborhood, supported the trail and said proponents have started their own petition. He said bringing in more users would mean more eyes on the area, increasing safety.
Marc Perkins, a biology professor at Orange Coast College, said many students live within easy biking distance but won’t cycle to class because they don’t feel safe on the street. They would rather ride on protected paths, he said.
“A strip of paint — a bike lane — does not do much,” Perkins said. “Paint does not help protect us from cars.”
Mayor Pro Tem John Stephens said he only wants to go forward if the trail demonstrably improves the safety of the neighborhood, but said opposition was falling into hyperbole.
“I would challenge the presumption that if we take this ditch, which is an attractant to people that are doing bad stuff … and we create a new beautiful bike path [that] it’s going to create more danger,” he said. “I think that there’s at least a likelihood that it would reduce the level of danger in the neighborhood.”