Newport pushes for 19th Street Bridge alternatives

As county traffic planners study the proposed 19th Street Bridge, Newport Beach city officials are lobbying to win street improvements, in case the bridge idea is permanently scrapped.

They recently requested that the county eliminate some roads originally envisioned for Banning Ranch, as the developer's current plan does not include them, according to a report for Tuesday's City Council meeting.

Taking these streets out of the study, in addition to the bridge, would presumably increase traffic on other streets and bolster Newport's arguments.

City officials want neighboring cities or other groups to pay for any road construction projects.

Politicians, environmentalists and many vocal residents in Costa Mesa and Huntington Beach have been trying for decades to erase the bridge — which would span the Santa Ana River and connect Costa Mesa to Huntington Beach — from the county master plan. They contend it would infringe on wildlife habitat and destroy their communities with increased traffic and the taking of property by eminent domain.

Newport's public works officials and attorneys are working to get "well-defined mitigation measures, funding commitments, and a firm schedule and guarantee for implementation of the mitigation measure," the staff report says.

Representatives from the cities of Newport, Costa Mesa and Huntington have been meeting biweekly since July with county and Orange County Transportation Authority officials.

Thus far, discussions have focused on the study's assumptions, the report says. Stakeholders agreed that some roads will likely never be built, even though they are on the county's master plan.

Also, OCTA is working on a plan to ensure any traffic improvements will be funded and built, the staff report says. The final county report is expected by Nov. 8.

Newport City Councilman Steve Rosansky revived talks last year about building the bridge, a topic which had been dormant for more than a decade.

But after public opposition, Huntington Beach Mayor and OCTA Commissioner Don Hansen pushed through a proposal to delete the bridge from the master plan. It passed the OCTA board unanimously, even though Newport Beach still supported the bridge and OCTA policy required consensus among the affected cities.

Newport threatened to sue. Two community groups, Friends of the Bridge and Friends of Dolores, appealed the OCTA decision. The board rejected the appeal, but still reversed its previous decision.


City Hall reuse

In other matters, the council plans to hold a study session at 4 p.m. to discuss the reuse of the current City Hall site. City administration is moving to the new Civic Center later this year, and various plans have been considered for the four-acre site at 32nd Street and Newport Boulevard.

The discussion will focus on the feasibility of a hotel there.


Marina Park lighthouse

The council also will rehear any arguments about the proposed Marina Park lighthouse. The council approved an amendment to its coastal land-use plan in July, allowing a 73-foot tower at the proposed Balboa Peninsula community center, but a procedural error caused them to conduct another public hearing.

The California Coastal Commission would still need to approve the lighthouse plan.


Horse trail

Also, a Santa Ana Heights neighborhood debate about equestrian trails will go before the council.

Some residents say they need a safe and convenient trail along Mesa Drive, according to a city staff report, while others say it will decrease home values and is unnecessary because equestrian riding in the area is declining.

The trail, which is in the city's general plan, is expected to cost between $250,000 and $350,000.

Twitter: @mreicher

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