Council opposes adding toll lane to 405

The Huntington Beach City Council declared Tuesday its opposition to a transportation agency’s plan to add a toll lane to the 405 freeway and agreed to take action to thwart such a move.

Council members voted 6 to 1, with Councilman Dave Sullivan dissenting, to support Mayor Connie Boardman in sending a letter to the California Department of Transportation, or Caltrans, opposing such lanes on the interstate, which is heavily used by Huntington Beach and south Orange County residents.

Boardman said council members during former Mayor Don Hansen’s term were against Orange County Transportation Authority plans to convert the high-occupancy-vehicle lane to a toll lane to maintain traffic speeds. Now Caltrans plans to do the same, according to a city staff report.

“I’m glad that you brought it up again,” Councilman Joe Carchio said to Boardman. “In most cases, with the state of California and Caltrans, you have to tell them what you want done. I’m glad that you brought this back, and I’m so happy that we’re going to write a letter and make them understand that we’re totally against this.”

With the number of hybrid and electric vehicles growing, Caltrans said it was concerned about the speeds on HOV lanes dropping to below 45 miles per hour during rush hour, according to the staff report. Such alternative-fuel vehicles are allowed to use HOV lanes, possibly adding congestion to what should be a fast-moving freeway option. The transportation agency’s solution to this would be to convert the existing HOV lane on the 405 to a toll lane.

Mayor Pro Tem Matthew Harper, who also serves as an OCTA director, said he too is opposed to Caltrans’ plans to turn carpool lanes into toll lanes.

“I think that it’s completely appropriate that we express our objections, not only to the toll lanes, but also to Caltrans’ attempt to usurp local control,” he said. “I think this should be a political decision made by our county folks, and certainly this is important to us here in Huntington Beach.”

Sullivan objected, saying the letter would not have told Caltrans to increase the vehicle occupancy level to three or more people. Boardman said the letter would suggest such alternatives but not directly tell the agency what to do.


Walking trails signage

In other council action Monday, members unanimously agreed to ask the Community Services Commission to look into creating a scenic trails committee.

The proposed ad-hoc committee, introduced by Councilman Joe Shaw, would help identify walking trails around the city and promote hiking.

“I’m an avid hiker, as well as many of the other members of the City Council,” he said. “I know that Huntington Beach has a lot of nice trails that are not necessarily marked. The general public doesn’t necessarily know where they are, and our visitors certainly don’t know where they are. And there’s certainly more opportunities to create more trails in Huntington Beach.”

Councilwoman Jill Hardy supported the item but cautioned her colleagues that they might be taking on more than they can handle.

“I’m kind of noticing in this room on the City Council that we’re struggling to attend committee meetings,” she said. “I know we all love the city and we want to take on so much and do so much for the city, but the seven of us need to be careful about what we’re signing up for. We have really obligated ourselves quite a bit.”


Final city budget approved

The City Council also voted to approve the 2013-2014 budget Monday night.

Council members approved a $313.8 million budget, which is a 6.5% increase from last year. They also projected $193.5 million for the general fund, a 5.8% increase from the previous year.

For the first time since 2008, the city was able to balance the budget without any layoffs, department cuts or reductions in service.

The city budgeted for the hiring of five full-time police officers next year and the funding of a fifth city-operated ambulance. Also, $28.5 million is budgeted for capital improvement projects, including $1.5 million in seed money for the long-awaited senior center.