Following public outcry, Newport Beach City Council changed their stance last week on whether or not to apply to use state funds from what is commonly called the “gas tax” for local road repair projects.
Council reversed their decision during a special meeting Aug. 31 that was called specifically to reconsider their previous decision on the matter. There was applause from the crowd after the item passed unanimously.
On Aug. 8, Council voted 5-2 against amending the city’s 2017-18 Capital Improvement Program budget to include Road Maintenance and Rehabilitation Account funding from the Road Repair and Accountability Act of 2017.
Council members Diane Dixon and Brad Avery were the two supporting votes. There were no public comments on the item at the time. City staff recommended approval.
Last week, Avery said he completely understands the mindset of his colleagues who voted against it the first time around.
“We get it wrong sometimes,” said Avery. “It’s tough to make these votes in the heat of the moment.”
Avery pointed out that he, along with the entire council, disagrees with the upcoming state gas tax.
The recently passed Senate Bill 1 will – starting Nov. 1 – increase the gas taxes 12 cents per gallon and diesel taxes 20 cents per gallon. It will also add some vehicle fees and electric vehicle fees. The funds generated from the higher taxes and new fees are meant to improve road conditions across California.
“SB1 funds are not free money that we are accepting,” Councilman Jeff Herdman said. “Rather, it’s money we have paid at the gas pumps and are entitled to get back.”
Voting yes for the resolution would have increased revenue by an estimated $481,309, which city staff tagged for the MacArthur Boulevard and University Drive pavement rehabilitation project.
“At the end of the day, everybody on this dais wants to do the right thing,” Avery said.
After the early August vote, council members received a number of letters and calls.
A lot of communication has occurred since Aug. 8, which has been remarkable, Dixon said. It’s important to hear from residents, she added.
“Anyone who thinks that their voice does not matter, think again,” Dixon said. “Every voice counts, every opinion counts.”
Following the strong feedback from residents, Herdman requested to bring the item back to council.
Councilman Scott Peotter said it was a great example of “representative government and how it works,” and added that he was happy to bring it back.
“We heard from our constituents,” Peotter said.
Longtime resident and former state assemblywoman Marilyn Brewer said during public comments on Aug. 31 that the “highest and most important responsibility” of elected officials is a fiduciary one. This is an opportunity, she added.
“We, the citizens of Newport Beach, pay that money. It’s our money,” Brewer said. “It belongs to the city of Newport, it belongs to its residents. We want our roads fixed.”
Dixon suggested including wording in the resolution stating that while they are applying for the funds, the City Council does not support SB1 or endorse it in any way.
At the time of the earlier vote, council members who voted against the item were concerned about the message it might send.
Although staff and council members emphasized that a yes vote did not equate in any way to an endorsement of SB1, the majority of council members voted against the item because they did not want to appear supportive of the tax.
“I don’t want to send a message that the way the government is running in Sacramento is acceptable, it’s not acceptable,” Muldoon said during the Aug. 8 meeting.
Councilman Will O’Neill said at the time that he voted against the item because “frankly, I believe the state legislature is using submissions like this as PR in an effort to counter any referendum we have in the coming year.”
There is already a strong effort to repeal SB1 underway, Peotter pointed out last week. There is plenty of time to still change course, he added.
Both Dixon and Mayor Pro Tem Marshall “Duffy” Duffield said they were planning on contributing personally to the repeal effort of SB1.
“I really think this gas tax is horrendous,” Duffield said.
Sacramento is already poorly managed, the council members agreed, this gas tax won’t fix that.
“I’m pretty upset with how the state has managed our transportation system,” Avery said. He pointed out the so-called “bullet train” and CalTrans as examples.
“The gas tax is still bad policy,” Peotter said. “We’ll just find another way to combat that.”