Seeking to control West Coast Highway's landscaping, the Newport Beach City Council voted Tuesday to keep trying to acquire the road from the state.
It may take special legislation, city leaders said, to get enough state funds to compensate for the city's additional maintenance costs and liability.
West Cost Highway's lush multimillion-dollar landscape plans could have to be scaled back if the city ends up working within the state's guidelines. A panel of citizens recently spent months drawing up the plans, and spent about $30,000 in consulting fees.
"We haven't wasted the investment. We can still go forward, even though it is a state highway," Deputy Public Works Director Dave Webb said Friday. "It will just be a little harder."
At issue is the stretch of West Coast Highway between the Santa Ana River and Jamboree Road. City administrators have recommended holding off on acquisition because the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) was offering so little money to the city.
Controlling roads allows the city to more easily install custom landscaping, undertake construction projects, hold special events and synchronize traffic signals.
Meanwhile, the council decided to take control of the portion of Newport Boulevard from Finley Avenue to the Newport Channel Bridge. The liability risks and maintenance costs were much less there compared to Coast Highway, Webb said.
In analyzing the highway and boulevard segments, the council placed much weight on Caltrans' cash offer. The offer was much less than what city leaders were expecting — $117,000. The annual maintenance alone would be $270,000, Webb estimated.
"The state is absolutely nuts to be offering us so little money for getting rid of such a high maintenance cost," said Councilman Ed Selich.
City administrators chalked it up to state budget woes.
In 2004 Caltrans offered considerably more for East Coast Highway through Corona del Mar. It paid the city about $1 million per mile for that 3.3-mile section, while the state is offering about $23,500 per mile for the 4.1-mile stretch of West Coast Highway.
Council members proposed a number of solutions: trying to acquire just the section between the Santa Ana River and the Newport Boulevard overpass, the area planned for landscaping; seeking special legislation to get the city more relinquishment funds; offering to assume liability for any accidents involving the landscaping; and trying to implement the landscaping proposal under current Caltrans guidelines.
"We've raised a lot of expectations in this community," Selich said. "To walk away from it now would be a big mistake."
For safety reasons, Caltrans restricts the size of trees on the median and the sides of the street. Webb said the state agency usually limits trees to a 4-inch trunk diameter.
The city's landscaping plans call for date palms and New Zealand Christmas trees, among others. Webb estimated that most 20-foot-high trees could have 8- to 10-inch trunk diameters.
The area needs to be beautified, said West Newport resident Cindy Koller, who served on the panel that devised the landscape plans.
"I think West Newport needs attention," she said Friday. "It will help all of the city. This area is a gateway for tourists."
Smoking, for-profit instruction bans approved
The council approved a ban on smoking in city parks, and extended the beach smoking ban 100 feet inland from the sand, but only on city property.
It also prohibited for-profit instruction at city parks and beaches, unless a company is registered with the Recreation and Senior Services Department. This change will affect personal trainers and others who use parks for private classes.
When registered, companies pay the city a percentage of profits and are advertised in the Newport Navigator recreation catalog.