Congressman Speaks on Local Issues: Dredging, Banning Ranch

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Rep. Harley Rouda speaks at the Newport Beach Chamber of Commerce’s Wake Up Newport meeting in the Friends Room at the library on Thursday.
— Photo by Sara Hall ©

Rep. Harley Rouda (D-Laguna Beach) is making the rounds at various meetings in Newport Beach this week, talking about his time in office so far, addressing local issues, and answering residents’ questions.

The freshman congressman spoke at two community meetings this week, first at the Newport Beach Sunrise Rotary Club on Tuesday, and followed by the NB Chamber of Commerce’s Wake Up Newport on Thursday. He is also scheduled for Speak Up Newport at 6 p.m. on Wednesday in the Community Room at the Civic Center.

On Thursday, Rouda gave a brief speech, covering his reasons for running, what he’s been doing in Washington and touting a few accomplishments, before diving into the Q&A portion of the meeting. The crowd of about 125 people, packed into the Friend’s Room at the Central Library, asked a range of questions, including a few specific to Newport Beach.

Resident Dennis Baker was called on first and asked Rouda about water quality issues, specifically where federal waters are concerned, regarding offshore drilling and dredging.

Rouda pointed out that he sits on the House Committee for Transportation and Infrastructure and the sub-committees for Highways and Transit, and Water Resources and Environment.

“Two sub-committees with deep importance to the community here,” he said. “There are lots of opportunities that we are focused on those specific things.”

It’s a bipartisan issue, he noted. He jokingly added that he has “yet to meet a republican that wants to see another oil drilling rig off our coast, and for good reason.”

“I don’t think you’re going to see any offshore drilling in California anytime soon because the state of California will fight tooth and nail to prevent the Trump administration from being able to do that,” Rouda commented.

Rep. Harley Rouda chats with residents outside the library on Thursday after the Wake Up Newport meeting.
— Photo by Sara Hall ©

They are working on bringing in funding for dredging, he confirmed.

He has stepped up in an effort to acquire federal funds for the project, Rouda noted at a previous town hall. They are working with the city of Newport Beach and the Army Corps of Engineers on the project.

“(Together, they are) trying to continue to make sure that we get funds for the dredging of Newport Beach,” Rouda concluded.

Rouda also mentioned another major issue in Newport Beach, the controversial proposed development of the Banning Ranch property.

The previously proposed 401-acre mixed use project, located in the 5100 block of West Coast Hwy., was at the center of a years-long battle that pitted developers against environmentalists over control of one of the largest remaining private open spaces in Southern California. The plan included 895 residential units, 45,100 square feet of commercial use, a 75-room resort and 20-bed hostel, and a 329-acre nature preserve.

In 2012, then City Council supported the planned community. However, reviewing the project’s permit application in September 2016, the California Coastal Commission denied the plan. In late 2017, the city voted to repeal all prior approvals of the project.

He has met with representatives from both sides and is “glad they are talking.”

“Any role I can play to continue to push that forward in a way that serves the community, I’m happy to do so,” Rouda said. “Banning Ranch and the potential outcome that could happen there between no development, partial development, or continue to fight over the future of it. I’m hopeful that the owners or developers of it can come to an agreement with what, I think, the community wants to see with that land.”

As the forum wrapped up, Newport Beach City Councilwoman Joy Brenner asked Rouda if there was any bipartisan support for a ban on assault weapons.

That type of support is probably “not there yet,” Rouda answered.

They did pass bipartisan legislation on national background checks, Rouda pointed out, something that about 90 percent of Americans support.

“That’s been sitting at the feet of Mitch McConnell,” Rouda commented.

That has to go through first, that’s where they have to start, he added.

“Red flag laws without a national background check are worthless, in my opinion,” Rouda noted.

At a minimum, he’d hope to get bipartisan support for, at the very least, “a higher level of training and licensing and age” requirements, to “even be able to access assault rifles and high-capacity magazines.”

“It’s a step back from being able to get a ban on it,” Rouda noted. “But, again, I’m not sure, with the strength of the gun lobby right now, (that we will see) politicians willing to take that on.”

Rouda also answered questions about a number of other issues, including impeachment, oversight of the Trump administration, Ukraine, immigration, climate change, opioid overdoses, sober homes, NAFTA treaty, the environment, term limits, gerrymandering, and more.

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