Council Confuses Issue of Undergrounding

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I recently attended a Newport Beach City Council Meeting for the first time, and was I in for an education. 

My reasons for being there were to speak on an item that was on the evening’s agenda- the undergrounding of utilities. It certainly seemed, if one were to follow this issue, that the discussion as it pertained to the Newport Heights area should have long been over.  

However, it ended up being a very controversial and confusing issue because it involved a two-step process.

The rule was that the petition process had to be initiated by a resident and that 60 percent of the residents in favor of undergrounding in a specific area had to sign a petition in order for the second step to kick in: a cost analysis involving tens of thousands of taxpayer dollars followed by an election that would take place whereby 50 percent of the residents would have to vote in favor of undergrounding for it to carry. 

Simple enough…well, maybe not. It wasn’t so simple after all. Somewhere along the way, communication between the different resident groups got heated, and communication between the city and the residents broke down; or perhaps that depended on what side of the issue you were on.

Several questionable things happened during that City Council Meeting on May 10. Three of the council members were absent from the discussion of the undergrounding issue which had been pulled from the consent calendar for discussion. One council member was absent for personal reasons while two recused themselves from that part of the meeting.

At the Council Meeting last Tuesday, this numerical goal of 60 percent of residents signing a petition was reiterated by the four City Council members present. District 114, which was up for discussion that evening, was only able to get 51.8 percent. Clear enough, or so it would seem.  No undergrounding for AD114!

One council member, the representative of the Heights area, followed the rules set in motion and voted in line with those rules.

But wait! That is not what went down with the three other council members. They

voted to continue the discussion at a future date. What is there to discuss? Are they changing the rules midstream?  

If that wasn’t disappointing enough, one of the council members said that the large group of people who had shown up to speak as opponents to the undergrounding of utilities represented bullies. It was unclear if he meant the speakers or their constituents, or both. I am not sure of the logic involved in this conclusion other than the fact that there were 18 speakers who were opponents of undergrounding at that meeting and only nine who spoke in favor. Were they bullies because they outnumbered the proponents? 

A majority of the speakers who were opponents were over 50, and several like myself, over 65.  Bullies, we are not. In fact, there was other evidence that some of the opponents had shared at  the meeting to make a good case for the opposite being true.

Another action that opponents of undergrounding found unbelievable actually took place before the meeting. That was the gerrymandering of District 114B (mostly an alleyway) out of homes in part of AD118 that had already failed to achieve the amount of signatures necessary for the study and the ballot election, and thus would not have underground utilities. The City simply gave the proponents a new name, AD 114B, and allowed a petition to be passed around again to this “new” district where the majority of homeowners were against undergrounding.

If you believe in fairness and following the rules, you just might like to show up at the next City Council Meeting where these issues should be discussed again.  You might even want to stand up and tell the City why you believe that the rules should be followed.

 Lynn Lorenz / Newport Beach

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