H.B., Newport mayors to face off in Assembly race

Setting up a showdown with an official from neighboring Newport Beach, Huntington Beach Mayor Matthew Harper announced Friday that he plans to run for state Assembly.

Harper, a Republican, wants the seat Assemblyman Allan Mansoor (R-Costa Mesa) is vacating in his bid for 2nd District county supervisor.

Also in the 2014 race for the 74th Assembly District, which spans Huntington Beach, Costa Mesa, Newport Beach, Irvine and Laguna Beach, are outgoing Newport Beach Mayor Keith Curry, 2010 Laguna Beach City Council candidate Emanuel Patrascu and 2012 Santa Ana City Council candidate Karina Onofre.

Harper, 39, said he has already lined up GOP support in the district, including endorsements from Mansoor, Costa Mesa Mayor Jim Righeimer and Irvine Mayor Steven Choi.

Righeimer, a longtime friend, said he was impressed by Harper's leadership during a recent Orange County Transportation Authority meeting, where Harper and other board members voted to build an additional general-purpose lane in both directions on a portion of the 405 Freeway instead of toll lanes opposed by many residents.

"He basically changed the tide to do that," Righeimer said. "That's the kind of people we want in office — the one's that'll stick their neck out and go do something instead of just standing back and letting things happen. He made it happen."

Before being elected to the Huntington Beach City Council, Harper served 12 years on the Huntington Beach Union High School District Board of Trustees.

Calling Curry the toughest of his opponents, Harper said the Assembly race will shape up as a battle between Huntington and Newport.

"I think [voters] would want more regular folks that are homegrown and have a wide breadth of policy experience," he said.

Though both Republicans, Harper said he and Curry disagree on two key issues — dock fees and beach fire rings.

Harper disagreed with Curry's vote to increase residential pier fees from $100 to a formula using square footage — an increase opponents called a "dock tax."

Curry said it isn't a tax but a fee that only affects 1,200 residents with private docks over public waters.

"And I would point out that the [dock] fees in Newport Beach are much less, as I understand, than those in Huntington Beach in the harbor," Curry said.

Huntington Beach Public Works Director Travis Hopkins said those who live along the main channel in Huntington Harbour have leases with the California State Lands Commission — not the city — and they are calculated using a formula different from Newport's.

The State Lands Commission charges Huntington Harbour residents 33 cents per square foot of the water area from the bulkhead to the pier head, regardless of dock size, in front of their property, according to a Newport Beach staff report on the issue.

Newport Beach charges by dock size — 52.5 cents per square foot of dock — rather than water span.

The Newport City Council's

decision to consider banning its 60 fire rings was the catalyst that started the heated debate on whether the South Coast Air Quality Management District should remove all of the pits within its jurisdiction, including roughly 500 in Huntington Beach.

Harper and his Surf City colleagues and constituents fought mightily to keep the rings and were quickly backed by neighboring cities and state legislators. Newport residents split on the issue with some arguing that the wood-burning pits release carcinogens and others saying they wanted to keep the tradition.

"I'm really looking forward to that debate," Harper said. "Even in Newport Beach, I think the position of pulling out fire rings, or the bizarre strategy of converting wood-burning fire rings to metal pipes with natural gas in them, is not supported by them or the surrounding cities, if you put it to a vote."

Curry responded that his position on the issue has always been that each city should make its own decision on what to do about their rings.

"Connie Boardman, when she was mayor, and I exchanged letters to that regard, and we've always supported the right of Huntington Beach to make its own decisions about fire rings as well as every city to make their own decision about fire rings," he said.

Harper highlighted economic differences with his opponent.

"Councilman Keith Curry may be able to wave around a lot of his personal cash, but I am confident that the voters will side with me on the issues," Harper said.

Curry said that unlike Harper, he has successfully built and sold a 400-person business. With the money he made, the Newport councilman was able to retire and "start philanthropic work at Concordia University," he said.

"I have demonstrated ability to raise money for my campaigns," Curry said. "I've had three campaigns where I've raised money from a broad range of contributors, and Matt has not."

Harper said he isn't fazed by Curry's remarks and believes the voters will be on his side.

The Newport councilman said that if elected, he would work to build a "healthy rainy-day reserve in Sacramento so that the Proposition 30 [sales and income] tax increases can be rolled off as scheduled."

"I'm going to bring the experience of being a 24-year financial advisor to the state and local governments, of being a college professor on public policy issues, of being a two-term mayor and an eighth-year councilman in Newport Beach," Curry said. "I look forward to it."

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