Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Study Session Report

The much-anticipated City Council Study Session yesterday afternoon provided less in the way of new information and much more on the collective attitude of our residents.

The session, held at the Neighborhood Community Center in anticipation of a large turnout, began about ten minutes late. It was
necessary to await the arrival of council member Katrina Foley so there would be a quorum. Apparently Mayor Eric Bever and council member Linda Dixon had better things to do.

In any event, the agenda included 4 items. The first, a presentation by a representative of CalT
rans on the landscaping and maintenance of their rights-of-way, was a real snoozer and took 40 valuable minutes. Even Mayor Pro Tem Allan Mansoor, the presiding officer at this meeting in Bever's absence, was fighting off yawns.

The second item was the hot button - the presentation by LSA Associates and OCTA on the winnowing proces
s of the options for possible improvements on SR-55, the Costa Mesa Freeway - as it clogs our "downtown" area. By the time this presentation began at 5:25 approximately two-thirds of the 150 or so seats available had been filled, about 60 of which by residents. The remainder were occupied by reporters and staffers from the consultants, OCTA, CalTrans and the city.

I was pleas
ed to see so many of my Eastside neighbors in attendance. The fledgling Eastside Neighbors Group was represented by no fewer than 17 individuals, each of whom is concerned about the impact of the decision - or lack of a decision - will have on cut-through traffic in their neighborhoods.


Among the residents present were city council candidates Chris Bunyan, Chris McEvoy and Bill Sneen. Counting Foley, that made 4 of the 9 candidates in attendance. Nick Moss and Lisa Reedy were not in attenda
nce. Eric Bever's absence was particularly curious, since this issue is one of his campaign platform planks. None of the "Big 3" - Bever, Gary Monahan and Jim Righeimer - made it to the presentation. This is also very curious in Monahan's case, since this is the very issue that got him involved in city politics almost 15 years ago and, considering the location of his restaurant, he has a very real vested interest in how this planning goes.

In fairness, I must tell you that Riggy - fresh from hob-nobbing at the Republican National Conventio
n - eventually made it to the meeting, but not until after the presentation and discussion had ended and the discussion of the third item on the agenda, the Library Master Plan, was underway. He must not have cared about that subject, because he chattered non-stop in the back row through the entire presentation and discussion.


Back to the SR-55. If attendees had gone to the city web site and reviewed the P
owerPoint presentation ahead of time, as I did, they would have received very little new information. Basically, the choices have been distilled from the original 8 or 9 down to four. Those are:

1) No Bui
ld - Baseline - This choice would basically do nothing, leaving Newport Blvd. through downtown clogged like a plaque-filled carotid artery, although elements of Number 2 would be anticipated. Costs would be nearly 0.

2) Transportation Management Systems - This leaves everything as-is except the city would collaborate with OCTA and CalTrans to utilize advanced planning techniques - signal phasing, etc.- to smooth out the traffic flow. This does nothing to re-direct the traffic, it only massages the pig through the snake and might cost over $10 million.

3) Terminal Enhancement - This plays with both ends of the problem a
rea using fly-overs and similar traffic manipulation devices to tinker with the flow of traffic at both ends and could cost between $50-100 million.

4) Cut and Cover - This digs a trench down the middle of Newport Blvd. in which the through traffic would flow and puts a lid on it - a street on which the local traffic would matriculate to it's destination. This plan might cost more than $300 million.

5) Phase II options (1-4) may evolve into hybrids of more than one of them in the final planning. Costs are unknown.

Options discarded from
consideration were the following:

1) Bored Tunnel, which would cost too much and be a problem with ground water and utilities. The relatively short span of this project makes the use of the machine - 350 feet long - impractical;

2) Reversible Lanes, which were deemed to be inappropriate for this site;

3) One-Way Couplets, another concept unworkable here;

4) Parallel Routes, which are impractical because the options (Superior and Irvine) are too far from the congestion area.

During the discussion the moderators advised that the same presentation would be made to the Newport Beach City Council on September 23rd, then would be taken to the OCTA Highway Committee on t
he 29th and eventually be presented to the OCTA Board on October 10th.


City Manager Allan Roeder requested that the full study document be made available to the city and interested residents immediately, so they could have a chance to review the deta
il that made up the study. Katrina Foley requested that another workshop similar to those held earlier this year be conducted for residents to consider and comment on the remaining choices BEFORE any final decision is made by the OCTA Board. She also requested that this item be placed on the agenda for the October 7th City Council meeting, to provide the council a chance to consider the details of the report and interested residents to speak to this issue. She expressed much frustration with the slow pace of this process.

Once the discussion of the SR-55 was completed at 5:55 the room emptied like a flushed toilet.

A scant dozen or so residents remained to hear the discussion about the possibility of a Library Services Master Plan being funded. It was painfully obvious that way too few of Costa Mesa residents care, or even know, about
how deficient our city is in library space. It was clear during this discussion that Allan Mansoor was not interested in preparing a Request for Proposals (RFP) for the creation of a Master Plan - which proponents were requesting for the next budget year - this far ahead. It's kind of a "which came first, the chicken or the egg?" situation. Supporters want the RFP issued so they can get bids from consultants so they know how much to request in next year's budget, while Mansoor thinks we should wait until the next budget cycle before doing anything. This is typical of him - never think ahead or plan - just react to the moment.

Once that subject was flogged the remaining item - recommendations for Employee of the Month - took about 30 seconds. At that time the meeting was closed and the regularly scheduled meeting of the Redevelopment Agency was called to order. That entire meeting took 5 minutes, including the staff presentation which recommended tinkering with the formula for our First Time Buyers Program to make it more available to more people.

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