Fight Over Newport Heights Underground Utilities Rages On

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A petition to establish assessment districts for undergrounding utility lines in a Newport Heights neighborhood will move forward, following a particularly rancorous hearing at this week’s Newport Beach City Council meeting.

The City Council’s 4-1 vote was a victory for the petitioners who squeaked by with 50.85 percent of assessed property owners supportive of the idea.

The city will have its consultant, Harris & Associates, create an engineer’s report examining the cost for each of the 300 property owners and hold an official vote.

Councilman Tony Petros voted against the motion. Councilman Keith Curry recused himself because he owns stock in AT&T and Kevin Muldoon recused himself because he works for a telecommunications company.

“It’s rewarding for it to go to a vote,” petitioner Mike Hefner said. “I think it’s good to see the process work the way it’s supposed to work.”

The City Council’s majority took tremendous heat from opponents for waiving the city’s guideline that originally set that threshold at 60 percent. For them it was like someone moving goal posts after the rules had already been set.

“The [Council’s] credibility is lost because they don’t follow the rules they set,” Lynda Adams said, who noted that she and her husband could handle the cost of undergrounding but she has a problem with having the petitioners’ will imposed on her.

“It’s someone down the street telling what I need to do to make them happy,” she said.

If the undergrounding opponents weren’t already incensed that the City Council decided to continue the discussion two weeks ago, they were pushed over the edge by Mayor Diane Dixon’s decision to shorten the time limit for public comments from three to two minutes.

When Dixon informed the public about this change in protocol, an audience member shouted, “absolutely not!”

The first district-at-issue is bound by 15th Street, Irvine Avenue, Cliff Drive, Tustin Avenue, and the other is bound by 15th Street, Tustin Avenue, Cliff Drive and Riverside Avenue.

The city is planning to redo the alleys behind the homes in these districts in the coming year. The petitioners argue that homeowners can save money by undergrounding utilities during this construction instead of ripping up the alleys again at a future date.

On the other side, opponents argue that the plan for undergrounding is purely driven by the desire to improve the alleys’ aesthetics but risks making utility repairs more difficult after an earthquake.

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