Wu: Newport should sue if OCTA doesn't acquiesce

Well, Councilwoman Leslie Daigle's "vote-gate" has passed, and the Newport Beach City Council officially voted this week to sue the Orange County Transportation Authority for removing the 19th Street Bridge from the county's Master Plan of Arterial Highways (MPAH).

The bridge, which was originally placed on the MPAH in 1957, has been formally opposed by both Huntington Beach and Costa Mesa for decades but was supported by Newport Beach, as Councilman Keith Curry says, "as long as I have been on council [2006] and likely before that."

So at the March 12 OCTA meeting, the board officially deleted the bridge, without Newport Beach's approval, and that same day filed a notice of exemption with the county clerk/recorder, effectively giving Newport Beach a 35-day statute of limitations to act. After that 35 days expired, Newport Beach would have no claims to dispute the OCTA board's action.

This led to the council's March 27 closed session, where a vote/consensus/concurrence took place to direct City Attorney Aaron Harp to proceed with litigation against OCTA. I sent emails to Curry (whom Harp identified in an email as the one dissenting "vote"), Mayor Nancy Gardner and council members Ed Selich and Daigle for their reasoning behind their "votes."

I received email confirmations from all of them, as well as their justifications.

My column came out April 1 and Daigle disputed an official vote was ever cast ("Vote on bridge helps in Newport, hurts in Assembly race"). Nevertheless, Harp officially declared that the council only gave consensus/concurrence to sue and that an official vote would take place at the next meeting, April 10 (the 35-day clock began March 12).

This time the official vote was again in favor of litigation, but instead of the 6-1 vote/concurrence/consensus, it was 5 to 2, with Curry and Daigle opposed, for the city to pursue legal remedies.

But right before that vote, the council unanimously directed City Manager Dave Kiff to pursue a tolling agreement with OCTA, which would essentially suspend the 35-day statute of limitations and give Newport Beach more time to convince the county to conduct more mitigation studies before completely wiping the 19th Street Bridge off the map.

However, due to an error, the OCTA board decided that it was going to retake the vote on the deletion of the bridge, thus rescinding the notice of exemption, but it would reconsider approving a new notice of exemption at the next board meeting.

So Harp went forward with the tolling agreement because he hadn't received concrete proof that such a rescission had been properly filed by the time the council meeting occurred. Better safe than sorry, right?

This still brought up some questions in my flu-ridden, tax season-crippled little brain.

First, why did it take almost the entire 35-day statute of limitations period to go after the tolling agreement?

And why are Curry and Daigle OK with nicely asking OCTA to mitigate the traffic concerns, but if OCTA says no, why aren't they willing to sue to protect Newport Beach's interests?

Two weeks ago, Curry said he doesn't like when government agencies use taxpayer dollars to sue each other. OK, that's a fair argument, but what if the tolling agreement and negotiations are not successful, another notice of exemption is filed, the additional 35-day statute of limitations expires, and Newport Beach loses all rights for mitigation studies by not suing?

Then the 19th Street Bridge is gone forever, right? Shouldn't the city be backing up its request for mitigation with a large bat?

"I support the bridge's removal from the master plan and recently requested NB council request OCTA to prepare mitigation studies," Daigle said two weeks ago. "That procedurally is the right path to follow. The council voted to request OCTA do the mitigation studies. ... As we've seen in Costa Mesa, when things are procedurally done so wrong, they grind to a halt. I am optimistic OCTA will come around and do the mitigation studies so traffic is managed appropriately."

This time, Daigle did not respond to my request for a comment, but apparently she's changed her mind regarding pursuing litigation against OCTA, at least when considering the council's original 6-1 consensus. She could be siding with Curry's reasoning, but we just don't know at this point.

Considering that Costa Mesa and Huntington Beach have always been against the 19th Street Bridge, while according to Newport Beach's Public Works Director Steve Badum, "the city has always supported it and formally supported it in the city's first General Plan," how successful do you think the negotiations will go?

Apparently not far, if you are running for Assembly, as Daigle is, in a district that includes Huntington Beach and Costa Mesa. By not protecting Newport Beach's best interests — keeping the 19th Street Bridge on the map — Daigle could be sacrificing Newport Beach votes in favor of possibly gaining votes in Huntington Beach and Costa Mesa in June.

We'll see if this no vote for Newport Beach pays off for her in Costa Mesa and Huntington Beach on June 5.

JACK WU is an accountant who lives in Newport Beach and practices in Costa Mesa. He is a longtime Republican Party loyalist and a volunteer campaign treasurer for Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Costa Mesa). His column runs Sundays on the Daily Pilot Forum page. He can be reached at jack@wubell.com.

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