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Officials challenge Pilot column

Newport's city attorney clarifies assertion that the council 'voted' to sue the OCTA. The decision, he says, was made by 'consensus,' and a formal vote is coming next week.

April 04, 2012|By Jon Cassidy, Special to the Daily Pilot

The Newport Beach City Council will have a chance to vote publicly at its regular meeting Tuesday on whether to sue the Orange County Transportation Authority, after some dispute over whether or not it has already done so.

The confusion centers in part on a public statement issued Tuesday by City Attorney Aaron Harp seeking to clarify the accuracy of a Daily Pilot opinion column, which stated that the council voted to sue OCTA. A few days prior to that, Harp had sent an email to a community activist stating there was a 6-1 vote to sue.

The "vote" was reported by Daily Pilot columnist Jack Wu, based on that email.

Councilwoman Leslie Daigle objected to Wu's column, saying that the decision was made by consensus, not a formal vote. Harp issued a statement in support of that.

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Daigle wrote a letter to the editor saying that a vote is "a formal expression of choice" and laying out her position: mitigation with or without litigation.

The underlying issue is the deletion of decades-old plans for the 19th Street Bridge from the county's Master Plan of Arterial Highways. Citing permitting difficulties, high costs, unpopularity and other obstacles, OCTA deleted plans for the bridge across the Santa Ana River during its March 12 meeting.

The decision was popular with hundreds of Huntington Beach and Costa Mesa residents, who would have seen more traffic, but less so in Newport Beach, which deals with the traffic routed through Pacific Coast Highway.

"Because the bridge has been part of the county's backbone of infrastructure, studies show that without the bridge, impacts to intersections occur in all the three cities, including Brookhurst [Street] and Hamilton [Avenue] in Huntington Beach, Newport [Boulevard] at Hospital Road and Superior [Avenue] at 17th Street in Costa Mesa," Daigle wrote.

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The decision to sue

In February, Daigle called for Newport and OCTA staff to work together on alternatives to the bridge, and the council voted in support of the idea. The letter sent by the city suggests the alternative of extending the Costa Mesa (55) Freeway as a tunnel through Costa Mesa.

Instead of doing another study, OCTA killed the bridge; the city of Newport Beach responded March 27 with the lawsuit decision.

Councilman Keith Curry opposed the lawsuit on the grounds that it's a waste of tax dollars for public agencies to sue each other, but nobody sided with him in the council discussion.

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