CdM Bypass Plan Offers Sign of Congestion

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The official seal of the City of Newport Beach represents what drew so many of us here: the Pacific Ocean, with its countless pleasures. (What the seal doesn’t show is the traffic we sit in on the way to those pleasures.)

Locals who attended the July 8 City Council meeting had plenty of time to peruse this seal, prominent on the wall of the Council Chambers, as discussion of the proposed Land Use Amendment to the General Plan waged nearly unto midnight.

You’ll be hearing more about this issue because on July 22 the City Council voted to place on the November ballot the amended Amendment (apologies for the redundancy). After all, the issue affects you, me, indeed everyone who lives in this city.

Today’s column covers one of my concerns after studying the Amendment, attending the July 8 and July 22 council meetings, and interviews with opponents and proponents. It’s about the traffic through Corona del Mar, which offers a microcosm of the dysfunctions of the administration of the City’s General Land Use Plan.

When it became apparent that residents at the July 8 City Council meeting were not about to go quietly into the night, Councilman Ed Selich wisely offered an alternative. As City Manager Dave Kiff summarizes in his July 19 Insider’s Guide: “Mr. Selich proposed that the amendment’s proposed new entitlement in Newport Center could not be constructed until such time as a ‘Corona del Mar Bypass Plan’ could be implemented that would divert vehicular traffic and limit traffic congestion in the Corona del Mar area…The bypass plan shall be approved by the City Council and implemented prior to the issuance of the first certificate of occupancy for any project that uses any or all of the (new) 500,000 SF of office, 50,000 SF of regional commercial, and/or 500 dwelling units…”

Selich’s Bypass Plan includes electronic signage for westbound drivers on Pacific Coast Highway as they approach Newport Coast Drive, alerting them to that alternative route to Newport Center (via San Joaquin Hills Road) as well as to the 73 and 405 Freeways.

That’s an eminently simple and sensible idea, but it raises the question: Why not a sign years ago?

In an email, Councilman Selich recalled the presence of a sign after Newport Coast Road opened in 1991. I recall it too, and am awaiting Caltrans’ confirmation that there was indeed a sign and, if so, when and why was it removed?

Traffic congestion through Corona del Mar has been exacerbated since 1994 by the inclusion of a 1.4-mile segment of Newport Coast Drive into the 73 Toll Road. (Residents and Assemblyman Gil Ferguson fought hard against the inclusion; they lost.)

As Councilwoman Nancy Gardner put it via email, “When Newport Coast Drive was opened, traffic improved. Then when the toll road took over one section, people stopped using it, and there was an effort to get the toll road agency to relinquish that section, but it couldn’t be done. I don’t remember exactly why. Since then, a couple of times a suggestion of signage was raised but not to the degree that Ed suggested.”

City Manager Dave Kiff offered this in an email: “I think what’s bringing it up now is better technology to do it – a way to make the signs less intrusive and to better track the time it takes one car to get from here to there.”

I would argue that the Council should have actively sought signage – any signage – at Newport Coast Drive years ago. Traffic congestion through Corona del Mar has grown substantially worse over time. (Contrary to the Los Angeles Times article in October of 1994 that a San Joaquin Transportation Corridor Agency-commissioned traffic study showed that “rush-hour traffic on Coast Highway in Corona del Mar will not worsen by the year 2000.”)

To now tie the signage to an Amendment that allows for, among other traffic-generating projects, 500,000 square feet of office, 50,000 square feet of retail, and 500 more residential units in Newport Center alone, is the sort of policy-making that causes residents to grow cynical about city government.

It shouldn’t require a complex Amendment on the November ballot to post such a sign.

Jean Ardell is the President of the Newport Beach Women’s Democratic Club.

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