In a bid to pass a landmark agreement, cities agree to strike contentious Santa Ana Heights issues.
By Alicia Robinson Daily Pilot
Newport Beach and county officials stripped two projects in Santa Ana Heights from a city-county pact on Friday. Other projects in the area could be scrapped along with the Santa Ana Heights redevelopment agency.
The first-of-its-kind pact, in the works for more than three years, gives Newport Beach the power to veto a second commercial runway or an extension of the existing one at John Wayne Airport. City residents generally cite increased airport traffic as the biggest threat to their quality of life.
The agreement also provides for studies of the Upper and Lower Newport Bay. It would have let the city build a park on a county-owned parcel at Mesa Drive and Birch Street, and it would have given the city sole jurisdiction over plans for a horse trail along Mesa Drive — but those two provisions were removed.
Supervisor Jim Silva, who represents Newport Beach, said he couldn't get the votes to pass the agreement with the park and trail included. He said Supervisor Chris Norby thinks the Mesa-Birch parcel should go to the highest bidder, and if Santa Ana Heights residents want it they can pay.
"I totally disagree, " Silva said. "I feel that that park has been paid for through redevelopment funds and it should go to the residents of Santa Ana Heights immediately."
Norby could not be reached for comment Friday. In August he was part of a board majority that voted down a plan to sell the city the parcel for $1.
With the controversial items stripped, no problems are expected in getting the agreement passed Tuesday by supervisors. The City Council approved it Oct. 10 but will vote Tuesday on the amended version, City Manager Homer Bludau said.
"The John Wayne [Airport] portion is what's most important to us and we think we have the support at the supervisor levels, so we're going to go with that," he said.
Bludau said the park and trail issues aren't dead and may be discussed at a later date.
But city officials and Santa Ana Heights activists may have to gird themselves for the next battle. Supervisors are also poised to discuss the possible termination of the area's redevelopment agency, which has $36 million in diverted property taxes.
A county staff report suggests closing out the agency by 2013, the earliest the county could repay bonds issued by the agency.
The Santa Ana Heights Project Advisory Committee, which represents residents, has complained that the county has done few of the projects planned for the area since the redevelopment agency was formed in 1986. Newport Beach has taken over several of them, including construction of a horse arena and a fire station that is now underway.
If the redevelopment agency is terminated, the city would finish projects that have been started, Bludau said, but "it means that basically all the money that they have they would not spend on any more projects."
Barbara Venezia, who chairs the project advisory committee, said she probably will fight the early closing of the agency.
"If they want to close it out without completing any of our projects, I think that's a huge injustice to the community," she said.
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