Huntington Beach Mayor Don Hansen said he has found a way around the decades-long assumption that Newport Beach has to agree if the county were to remove from its master plan a proposed bridge linking Surf City and Costa Mesa: Ask.
Hansen suggests that the Orange County Transportation Authority's board find at its March 12 meeting that the bridge issue is uniquely intractable, and therefore, ignore its policy on unanimity.
"It's been very clear we're not going to get consensus with Newport Beach," Hansen said. "They're not prepared or willing to advocate for the removal at this point."
For decades, Newport Beach supported a bridge over the Santa Ana River linking Costa Mesa's Westside at 19th Street to Huntington Beach's Banning Avenue for traffic relief on its own Pacific Coast Highway bridge.
Costa Mesa and Huntington, however, have for years opposed it.
"It's quite clear the most affected folks want nothing to do with this," Hansen said.
The Huntington Beach mayor is also chairman of OCTA's Regional Planning and Highway Committee and received unanimous agreement this week among the committee's eight members to take the decision to the 17-member OCTA board.
The board only needs majority approval to remove the 19th Street bridge from Orange County's master plan for arterial highways, where it's been assigned since the 1950s.
"I think at the end of the day we'll continue to talk to Newport Beach on other issues but at some point, we have to mitigate around issues," said Costa Mesa Councilman Steve Mensinger. "I think it's a great idea."
Deleting the bridge would put to rest an issue that has stirred up residents and environmentalists for years, many of whom were concerned about noise, traffic and the effect on local nature parks.
As it turns out, none of this would have been possible if not for Newport Beach Councilman Steve Rosansky, who revived the issue last year in hopes of cementing a legacy before he is termed out this year.
"I don't regret it," Rosansky said. "Personally, I think building the bridge is the right thing to do."
In August, Rosansky met with Costa Mesa Councilman Jim Righeimer and Orange County Supervisor John Moorlach, both of whom were open to the idea of finally building the bridge.
But when the Daily Pilot reported the meeting in October, the blowback was immediate and fierce.
The Banning Ranch Conservancy, a group dedicated to preserving wild land south of the proposed bridge in Newport Beach, took notice. Costa Mesa Westside residents dusted off their old anti-bridge playbooks and started meeting in living rooms and backyards to discuss strategy.
By the time Hansen called a community meeting in January to straighten out the record and discuss bridge options, the opposition had galvanized.
More than 700 people passionately — and sometimes angrily — rejected every option that included construction.
Moorlach backed away from his support, as did Hansen. Soon both Huntington Beach and Costa Mesa city officials were introducing resolutions to their councils to reiterate their opposition to the bridge.
Rosansky, and Newport Beach as a whole, remained steadfast.
"Granted, there was several hundred at that meeting — I saw it — but you know, half of those people didn't even know what they were there for," Rosansky said. "A lot of them were for Banning Ranch."
Councilwoman Leslie Daigle proposed her city reassess the bridge option, but Hansen isn't waiting.
"Quite frankly, this issue's been studied for three or four decades and the challenge is ... that there had to be consensus among the three jurisdictions for it to be removed," Hansen said. "This is just one where there's going to be disagreement. The two most affected cities are locked arms on this."
Newport Beach officials have said for months that if the bridge is off the table, then other traffic relief measures have to be considered.
"They're short-changing their own residents by taking this tack," Rosansky said. "But if that's what they want to do, I would hope they at least have the common sense to agree to, 'Hey, if we're not going to do this, we better figure out what the alternatives are and support those.'"