Sacramento may be more than 400 miles north of Newport Beach, but a group of residents got an update straight from the source of the California capital during a meeting last week.
Assemblyman Matthew Harper was the featured speaker at this month’s Corona del Mar Chamber of Commerce’s Good Morning CdM (formerly the Government Affairs Committee) meeting. The community and government discussion was held Nov. 12 at the Bahia Corinthian Yacht Club.
Harper, who represents the 74th District – which includes the city of Newport Beach, mentioned that California’s legislative session adjourned in September.
“Your wallet is safe for now,” Harper joked.
The former Huntington Beach mayor is one of the new faces in Sacramento, along with about one-third of the entire assembly.
“I knew what I was getting into,” Harper said after the meeting.
With a lot of new members, both republican and democrat, he’s been able to build a lot of relationships within his own caucus and across the aisle that will last for years.
“Each of us represent different geographies within our state and each of us come to the state legislature with our different philosophies, but we all recognize that we’re all going to be in it together,” Harper told the CdM crowd.
Harper serves on the Labor and Employment, Higher Education, Natural Resources and the Water, Parks and Wildlife committees.
His time on the HB Union High School board of trustees has definitely helped. His understanding of education and finance has been very valuable, he added.
Issues that affect the entire state of California are also important topics closer to home, Harper said. He’s working on several in Sacramento, but prefers local authorities to be in charge of their own towns.
“I like as much local control as we can (that will allow) local decision-makers to be able to address issues,” Harper said.
Whether the decision -makers are from the city, county, school district, or another local jurisdiction, that’s something he’ll fight for, Harper explained. But if an issue does need attention from the state, he hopes to be a faithful representative of the community’s wants and needs.
“I always try to work to listen to the community and be able to advocate on behalf of it when we have an issue that should be addressed by the state of California,” he said.
At Thursday’s meeting, he discussed a range of local and statewide issues, including business, water, energy, and transportation.
The weather and coastline make Newport a “major magnet” and the residents and business owners in the area benefit, Harper said. But the overall business environment in the entire state and making California business-friendly is “a big challenge,” he added.
Newport Beach is only a small part of the bigger picture in California, he noted.
“We don’t have the economy that we could have,” Harper said. “We are not exercising our potential, by any means.”
To improve, the state needs to work at efficiently using the money and resources they already have in the bank and on hand.
“One of the challenges we have in California is just utilizing the dollars that we do have,” Harper said.
The poor management has led to a downtrodden business environment. A number of major, mid-size and small employers that are relocating to other states, partly because of the labor laws, high level of taxation and burdensome regulations. It’s also partly because of the litigation environment in California, he added.
“We need to change the tide of making employers more vulnerable to lawsuits and litigation,” Harper said.
There are a lot of places in California that are facing substantial challenges, like unemployment, he explained.
“We can’t be lolled into thinking everything is ok,” Harper said.
Another major issue facing both the state and the city of Newport Beach is water, or the lack thereof.
“Water is always a top concern, now more than ever,” Harper said.
Even if it’s a wet year with a very strong El Niño, the state will not recover from the drought, Harper said. It will take multiple sustained “flood years.”
“It’s never, ‘Oh, it rained just the right amount,’” Harper joked. “It’s always either a flood year or a drought year.”
A plan needs to be in place to deal with that situation, he added.
In order to help the California aqueduct needs to be completed and water storage needs to improve, Harper recommended. But regulations and red tape are slowing things down.
Water recycling, voluntary water conservation, and desalination are also important factors in the overall water issue, Harper added.
“Water will continue to be an issue, whether we’re in a flood year or a drought year, because of the nature of California,” Harper said.
Connected to that issue, he’s also learning more about the laws governing Newport Harbor, Harper pointed out, which include maritime, boating and water issues.
“That’s an area that I’m taking a lot of interest in learning more about,” Harper said.
Harper also spoke to the CdM group about energy. He recently attended a seminar to learn about how to tackle the state’s grid and energy generation issues.
“We’re getting more and more efficient over time,” Harper said.
There is also a lot to learn about utilizing solar and wind power, he added, while still recognizing the value of natural gas. If the sun stops shining or the wind stops blowing, there needs to be a way to pick that up and keep the grid balanced, he said.
Officials need to learn to take advantage of the energy resources in the state in a clean, responsible and environmentally friendly way, Harper added.
“(We need to) be able to utilize the bounty that’s been provided to us out here in the state of California,” Harper said.
Transportation is another a hot topic that Harper tackled at the meeting. He explained a nine-point transportation plan that includes bills related to funding and more efficiently use current resources, and a few policy changes that would “extend our dollars.”
“Essentially what it would do is meet many of our transportation needs without raising taxes,” Harper said.
Residents at the meeting asked about split roll property tax, rehabilitation homes, crime rates, coyotes, and more.
Newport Beach City Councilman Scott Peotter, whose district covers Corona del Mar, also gave the group an update on a few local issues. Peotter spoke about Marina Park parking, the city’s marijuana ban, undergrounding utilities, the Coastal Land Use Plan, and more.
Orange County Supervisor Michelle Steel’s District Representative Tim Whitacre was also on hand to provide information on issues Steel is currently working on, including coyotes. He mentioned a coordinated effort that the city, county and other involved agencies are working on to combat the problem. He also spoke about the sea wall, law enforcement, dredging, and more.
Good Morning CdM meets on the second Thursday of every month.
For more information, visit cdmchamber.com and ad74.asmrc.org.