Coastal Commission Opposes ‘Port Plan’ Bill

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The California Coastal Commission voted April 12 to oppose Assembly Bill 1196, which proposes to establish Newport Harbor as a “port” and authorize the city to apply for a Port Master Plan.

The CCC voted 9-3, with commissioners Erik Howell, Ryan Sundberg and Roberto Uranga dissenting.

The bill could still pass in Sacramento, but the CCC’s vote is weighty opposition.

Coastal Legislative Director Sarah Christie explained staff’s position.

“The problem is, quite simply and sort of obviously, is that the city of Newport Beach’s municipal harbor is not a port,” Christie said, causing some audience members to laugh.

They are concerned about the precedent it would set and that it’s a “dramatic seeding of the Commission’s authority,” she said.

Also, they are state tidelands and it’s appropriate for the state to maintain oversight of them, she added. There isn’t a high demand for dock work projects, or a lot of appeals currently, Christie explained.

It doesn’t make a great deal of sense for Newport Beach to have a PMP, she stated.

Christie said while the general desire for a local government to take over control of activities in state waters is understandable, it’s outside the bounds of the state and local balance set forth by the California Coastal Act.

In chapter eight of the Coastal Act, PMPs allow designated communities to have, essentially, an “LCP on water,” as some officials have called it. The bill, sponsored by Assemblyman Matthew Harper, proposes adding Newport Beach to that list of communities.

On March 27, Newport Beach City Council approved a professional services agreement not to exceed the amount of $120,000 with Schmitz and Associates, including work with Henschel Government Affairs, as part of the effort to authorize the city to develop and file a Port Master Plan.

Don Schmitz, a longtime CCC consultant to the city, and Councilman Scott Peotter attended the Coastal Commission meeting in Redondo Beach to make a case in support of the Port Plan effort.

They asked for 30 days to address and respond to some of the concerns raised by Christie.

A PMP would help deal more efficiently with a number of issues and projects needed in the harbor, Peotter argued.

There are other mechanisms to improve efficiency, CCC Executive Director Jack Ainsworth noted, like a Public Works Plan.

Christie first raised CCC staff’s concerns in February. Several staff and commissioners expressed disappointment that the city didn’t communicate better with the CCC on the issue.

Several staff and commissioners called it a “bad bill.”

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