Council delays building Santa Ana Heights horse trail

Despite cries from equestrians and their supporters, the Newport Beach City Council voted this week to delay building a planned multiuse trail in Santa Ana Heights.

Some homeowners on Mesa Drive on Tuesday protested the proposed trail, claiming it would devalue their property and that riders have enough trails already.

The conflict stretches back years and stems from when the city annexed the area, inheriting a trail plan from the county.

The trail's public right of way today is filled with landscaping and other encroachments from private estates overlooking Upper Newport Bay, which rides contend is unfair.

As a separate trail construction project is concluding, residents pressed the council for a decision.

"It's pretty well-split," Councilman Rush Hill said about public opinion. "What that tells me is the community is not clear on what it really wants."

Equestrian supporters alleged that some of the trail's primary opponents — namely prominent developers and Republican donors Buck Johns and Harry Rinker — used their political influence to sway six of the council members to their side.

"Everybody needs to stop playing politics because it is the elephant in the middle of the room," said Barbara Venezia, a Santa Ana Heights resident and Orange County Register columnist.

Rinker told the council Tuesday that it would cost "well into the seven figures" if the city were to build the trail.

Only Mayor Nancy Gardner voted against delaying the trail construction. She asked City Manager Dave Kiff to analyze the cost of the public land the estate owners are occupying.

She said the city charges beachfront homeowners who encroach into public land, and she wanted a similar proposal for Mesa Drive.

"Those encroachments are worth something," said Gardner, turning Rinker's comments around.


Prevailing wage

The council delayed a vote on exempting the city from paying state-regulated prevailing wages on construction projects.

Kiff said after the meeting that a building trades group asked to meet with the administration. A recent state Supreme Court decision said that charter cities could approve public-works projects without adhering to the wage requirement.


Civic Center Drive

The city may rename of a portion of Avocado Avenue, where its new Civic Center is being built, to Civic Center Drive. Gardner asked Kiff to research what that process would involve.

Jim Mosher, a frequent council critic, made the suggestion during public comments.


Marina Park lighthouse

For the second time, the council unanimously approved an amendment to its coastal land-use plan that would allow for a 73-foot lighthouse at the planned Marina Park community center. A procedural error cause the council to re-hear the issue.


Balboa Theater

The Balboa Performing Arts Theater Foundation requested that the city pay $20,000 to sponsor its Balboa Beach Music Fest planned for Oct. 13 at Peninsula Park.

Some council members criticized the foundation for working outside the city's proscribed special events application process. Others questioned how the proceeds would be divvied between the nonprofit foundation and an event production company.

Ultimately, the council voted to waive $20,000 in city fees for the event, in exchange for publicity.

Gardner said the theater should apply for support when other community groups do, and she again was the lone dissenting vote.

Twitter: @mreicher

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