OCTA committee rejects 19th Street Bridge appeal

An Orange County Transportation Authority committee rejected an appeal Monday regarding its decision to eliminate long-term plans for a bridge across the Santa Ana River connecting Costa Mesa and Huntington Beach.

The OCTA board deleted decades-old plans for the 19th Street Bridge from the county master plan last month. The decision was well received by hundreds of neighbors who would have seen more traffic if the bridge were built, but wasn't as popular with Newport Beach officials, who have to deal with traffic routed through Coast Highway. Newport authorized a lawsuit last week.

OCTA's Regional Planning and Highways Committee rejected an appeal by Robert Hawkins, an environmental lawyer and former Newport Beach planning commissioner, arguing that OCTA did not follow the proper procedures in determining that the move would not require an environmental impact report.

With that decision, the appeal goes to the OCTA board for consideration next Monday. OCTA will also file a new Notice of Exemption from environmental report requirements, starting a 35-day clock for any lawsuits over the decision.

OCTA staffer Joe Alcock cited state law supporting the position: "A project involving only feasibility or planning studies for possible future actions which the agency, board or commission has not approved, adopted or funded does not require the preparation of an environmental impact report or negative declaration…"

Hawkins argued that a study had shown deletion of the bridge "was likely to have significant implications for all four cities."

County Supervisor Shawn Nelson, also an OCTA board member, said he would have liked to have heard Newport Beach explain its position before the vote was taken.

"What's their take on not showing up," he asked. "Did they just not know we were having a meeting?"

OCTA General Manager Will Kempton said that he and Newport City Manager Dave Kiff talked recently about the issue, discussing possible mitigation, not lawsuits.

Last week, the Newport Beach City Council decided to have Kiff seek an agreement pausing the statute of limitations while the two sides talk out their issues.

Hawkins has also threatened a lawsuit.


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