19th Street Bridge Meeting Wrap-up
If you thought some of the "outsourcing" City Council meetings in Costa Mesa last year were raucous, you should have been at the meeting about the 19th Street Bridge at Eader Elementary School in Huntington Beach last night! Holy Cow! Once the meeting got underway the crowd was noisy and impatient, alternately cheering and jeering and shouting out at speakers. It was a lot of fun!
OPPOSITION ARRIVED EARLY
I arrived very early - before 6:00 p.m. - for the 7:00 meeting because I wanted a chance to get the lay of the land before the festivities began. Even at that early hour opponents of The Bridge were busily setting up tables outside the meeting room and handing out anti-bridge literature.OCTA PRESENT
Members of the Orange County Transportation Authority (OCTA) staff were present with hand-outs, sign-in rosters and stickers to be used to express preferences.OVERFLOWING AND THEN SOME
The room, which has a capacity rating of 460 people, was set up to accommodate 200 in chairs, with standing room behind the rows of chairs. As it turned out, the facility wasn't even close to being able to handle the crowd. Five minutes before the schedule starting time all the chairs were occupied and there was a growing standing-room-only crowd in the rear. I estimated that a few minutes into the meeting there were nearly 500 people in the room PLUS another 300 or so outside. And no one in the crowd was happy. By the time the meeting ended the crowd had thinned, but there remained at least 200 concerned residents who stayed to the bitter end.A SPECIAL COUNCIL MEETING
Huntington Beach Mayor Don Hansen kicked things off by taking roll of the members of the City Council present - the meeting had been agendized as a special council meeting. At one time or another throughout the evening six of the seven Huntington Beach city council members were present. He also, tongue-in-cheek, expressed gratitude for there being no torches and pitch forks in the crowd.MOORLACH THROWS ROSANSKY UNDER THE BUS
He handed off the early part of the meeting briefly to Orange County Supervisor John Moorlach, who promptly answered the #1 question on everyone's mind - why are we here? He told us that lame duck Newport Beach City Councilman Steve Rosansky - who was present - had approached Moorlach earlier last year to get some help with "a few things" that he had hoped to accomplish before he left office - he's termed-out the end of this year. One of those things was getting the 19th Street Bridge approved. The reaction by the crowd was noisy and very unhappy. Still, to his credit, Rosansky stuck it out to the very end of the meeting and was still lingering, answering questions from residents and members of the media at 10 p.m. Moorlach also stayed until the very end.OPTIONS
Hansen then took a few minutes to give the fidgety audience the options they could consider, but also emphasized that the official position of the Huntington Beach City Council is in opposition to a bridge. He stressed that many times over the evening. He gave a PowerPoint presentation of the options - the most popular, by far, was to do nothing at all. Huntington Beach councilman Joe Shaw remarked that he would press his fellow council members to re-assert their official opposition to the bridge at the next meeting on January 17th.
REMOVAL FROM MASTER PLAN UNLIKELY
Hansen emphasized that it will take unanimous consent by the city councils of Huntington Beach, Newport Beach and Costa Mesa to get the bridge removed from the County Master Plan of Arterial Highways (MPAH) permanently, and that didn't seem likely since it appeared the Newport Beach City Council was in favor of the bridge to enhance traffic flow coincident with the proposed Banning Ranch Development.
LEECE GAVE THE OFFICIAL CITY VIEW
After an overview of the options Hansen gave the crowd a half hour to mingle and look at the displays made available by the Orange County Transportation Authority staff, then re-convened the formal part of the meeting for Public Comments. Eighty-five minutes and 52 speakers later he called the meeting to a halt. The number of speakers from Huntington Beach and Costa Mesa was about evenly split, with a few others from Newport Beach filling it out.TWO DOZEN COSTA MESANS SPOKE
While I don't have nearly enough space to list all the Costa Mesans who crossed the border to express their concern on this issue, those familiar with Costa Mesa council meetings would have recognized many of the speakers from our city, including former council members Jay Humphrey and Sandra Genis. However, several Costa Mesans that spoke were not "regulars", just very concerned residents who became energized by this particular issue. Not a single person spoke in favor of the bridge, including Rosansky, who had been blindsided by Moorlach earlier.COSTA MESA STAFF WELL-REPRESENTED
Several Costa Mesa staffers were in attendance, led by CEO Tom Hatch. I saw recently appointed Director of Economic Development/Community Improvement, Peter Naghavi, Interim Public Services Director,Ernesto Munoz and Transportation Services Manager Raja Sethuraman all huddled at the side of the room, listening intently to the questions and comments. Planning Commissioner and Westside resident Rob Dickson was also present.THIS HORSE WILL JUST NOT STAY DEAD
The upshot of the meeting was a clear statement that, while Huntington Beach does not support the bridge, it will also take unanimous support from the leaders of Costa Mesa and Newport Beach to remove the bridge from the MPAH forever. So, it's likely that this issue will just never go away and another group of very concerned residents will be re-visiting it again sometime in the next decade or two. That's a very depressing fact of life.