The Newport Beach City Council revised its stance on the 19th Street Bridge controversy Tuesday night, deciding to try negotiating with the Orange County Transportation Authority before filing a lawsuit.
The council unanimously approved having City Manager Dave Kiff seek an agreement with the OCTA to pause the statute of limitations on a civil suit while the two sides "try to resolve disputes without the need for litigation," City Attorney Aaron Harp said.
The council took a second vote authorizing Harp to file a lawsuit against the OCTA before the statute of limitations runs out. That vote was 5 to 2, with council members Keith Curry and Leslie Daigle dissenting.
There had been some question as to whether the council approved the lawsuit two weeks ago, with officials ultimately deciding no vote had been taken, so the question was brought back for consideration.
Hundreds of neighbors on either side of the proposed bridge that would span the Santa Ana River turned out in opposition at a meeting earlier this year, effectively dooming the plan. At its March 12 meeting, the OCTA deleted plans for the bridge, citing permitting difficulties, high costs, unpopularity and other obstacles.
Newport Beach officials, facing higher traffic along Pacific Coast Highway as a result, said last week that a lawsuit would force the OCTA to consider alternatives.
Capital Improvement Program
During an afternoon study session, the council also reviewed a preliminary staff proposal for $23.6 million in new appropriations for the city's annual Capital Improvement Program. Council members were generally supportive of the proposal, which included items such as $4 million for a new cover for the Big Canyon Reservoir, $500,000 to start planning for higher seawalls, and $1.5 million for traffic signal improvements.
Kiff stressed that the plan was preliminary and that some of the funding sources could change. It also doesn't include projects approved in prior years that haven't yet been completed, he said.
Once those are accounted for, the infrastructure budget could be upward of $50 million once again, Kiff said.
The city plans to contribute about $3.6 million out of the general fund to the infrastructure budget — an increase from $2 million last year, he said.
The rest of the money comes mainly from restricted funds such as gas tax, harbor and water funds, as well as planning funds and grants.
Kiff said there was little room to go higher than $3.6 million.
"We're certainly not flush with cash," he said. "We're trying to ratchet that up, but not back to $5 million."
The only contentious proposal was an as-yet-unfunded plan for $70,000 worth of new signs in Newport Coast.
Mayor Nancy Gardner objected to the proposed signs, which are apparently different from those posted elsewhere in the city.
Curry, who represents the area, said that the signs were the only project for his district in the proposal.
"I think we can find something we can all agree on," he said.
"Not if it's not like our current design," Gardner said. "I don't think you're going to find a way."