Attendees cry foul to 19th Street Bridge proposal

HUNTINGTON BEACH — So how did 19th Street Bridge proponent and Newport Beach City Councilman Steve Rosansky sum up a meeting where 600 fervent opponents showed up in no mood to hear alternatives?

"Not my idea" were the three words that the termed-out councilman uttered with a laugh to describe Thursday night's meeting, which could only be viewed as a 90-minute act of futility if its goal was to change people's minds about the proposed Costa Mesa-Huntington Beach connector.

"I don't think this group is a fair representation of the residents of all three cities," Rosansky said. He was also alluding to many of his own Newport Beach constituency, who could conceivably benefit from another bridge linking the two sides of the Santa Ana River in addition to Coast Highway in Newport, and Victoria Street and Adams Avenue in Costa Mesa.

"I think if you stopped traffic on Coast Highway and asked them how they felt about it, I think there's a lot of people for it," he added.

But Thursday's meeting didn't take place on Coast Highway. It happened at Eader Elementary School in Huntington Beach, about a half-mile from where the proposed bridge would spit westbound drivers out onto Brookhurst Street where the road abuts blocks of homes.

To approve the bridge, all three cities would have to agree to the plan, along with various federal agencies. Early estimates put the cost at between $140 million and $150 million. Conversely, to get the bridge eliminated from the county's master plan — which has included the bridge since 1957 — all three cities would have to agree to its removal.

Newport Beach appears to be the only holdout, as its official position is to support the bridge.

Orange County Supervisor John Moorlach called Thursday's setting "ground zero" for the bridge issue and said he was hopeful people would be open to ideas.

They weren't.

From the outset the crowd was hostile, even to the home team. Bridge opponents were handing out red "No Bridge" signs at the door, and 400 or so inside overflowed to hundreds more outside who couldn't hear the proceedings.

Huntington Beach Mayor Don Hansen was roundly jeered as he went through most of the three proposals for the 19th Street Bridge.

Option No. 1: Do nothing, don't build a bridge. (Thunderous applause.)

Option No. 2: Build a bridge, but close off Banning Avenue in Huntington and turn it into a pocket park or cul-de-sac, so westbound residents crossing the river would have to go north or south on Brookhurst. (Hansen was booed before he could even finish the presentation.)

Option No. 3: Build a bridge, put a triangle median in the middle of the intersection to force westbound cars to go north or south on Brookhurst, and force eastbound cars on Banning to do the same. (Hansen couldn't even finish explaining the idea, which was vehemently rejected.)

Politicians in attendance got the message loud and clear.

Hansen told the crowd that at the Jan. 17 Huntington Beach City Council meeting, the council would reaffirm its stance against a bridge.

Costa Mesa City Councilwoman Wendy Leece said she opposes the bridge, too. Costa Mesa Councilman Steve Mensinger, a developer by profession, said he watched the proceedings from a computer.

"If we don't build the bridge, 20 years from today we're going to have to figure out where that traffic is going to go," Mensinger said.

But, he said, this may be one can to kick down the road.

"I will not support a bridge if the community does not want a bridge," he said. "We will reaffirm our position [against the bridge] Tuesday."

Rosansky remained unfazed by the stiff opposition.

"The problem with government is a failure in leadership," he said at the end of the meeting. "If their decision is based on tonight's input, I think they're short-changing their residents."

Twitter: @JosephSerna

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