A ‘WTH’ Sort of Year

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Citizens of every persuasion throughout our fair nation likely agree that it’s been a Whiskey Tango Hotel (WTH, or What The Heck) sort of election year. I’m restraining myself here, as many have called it much worse.

In the city of Newport Beach, the practice of politics is paralleling similar profanity-inducing dynamics. Consider my experiences on Thursday, August 18, which moved me to use the full range of the English language. Please join me as I retrace that itinerary.

In late morning I left our home in the southern part of Laguna Beach (where we moved after living many years in Corona del Mar), navigating my way through the secondary streets that permit drivers to avoid some of the traffic on Coast Highway.

En route to an appointment in Big Canyon, I ran into a traffic backup south of Corona del Mar. The delay caused me to ponder the lack of helpful signage as one approaches Newport Coast Drive from the south: signage that would inform drivers – many of whom are tourists – that Fashion Island/Newport Center, John Wayne Airport, and the 405 freeway can easily be reached by turning right onto Newport Coast Drive, thus avoiding the aforementioned congestion through CdM. (Right now the only directional sign prior to Newport Coast Dr. is for the 73 Toll Road). This seems elementary, dear citizens, but for the past two or so years, whenever I’ve broached the idea to city officials, I’ve been greeted with an aw-shucks demurrer: We’d have to run a study. What about the shops in CdM who depend on that traffic for business?

Well, then, run a study.

Drivers on their way to the airport, Fashion Island/Newport Center, or the 405 are not likely to be shopping in CdM as they simmer in traffic. The unspoken reason may well be that the Irvine Company wants traffic to remain low volume through Newport Coast.

If you doubt this conspiracy theory, consider how Shady Canyon Drive lays out: It does not permit through traffic from Bonita Canyon Road to Sand Canyon Avenue because there is a guard gate smack in the middle it, which forces residents of Newport Coast and Turtle Rock to take the San Diego Freeway to reach the hospitals and medical facilities and Quail Hill Shopping Center off Sand Canyon Avenue (there are other guard gates just off Shady Canyon Drive to keep the riff-raff out.)

WTH?

After my appointment, I drove to the Newport Beach Carwash at 150 Newport Center Drive. If the address rings a bell, you’ll note that the city is considering a project that would replace the carwash with a six-story, 45-unit luxury condominium project. Inside the carwash is a video advertorial showing a bunch of developers explaining why this is a great idea. Never mind that the project breaks precedent with the land use plan for Newport Center, which calls for clustering taller buildings at the top of the hill and lower two-story ones as the hill descends to Pacific Coast Highway. Never mind that the city of Newport Beach could use affordable housing units far more than additional luxury housing. Never mind that the loss of the conveniently located car wash will generate more traffic as local residents and workers drive to carwashes further away. WTH?

In my freshly washed car, I drove through heavy traffic on PCH and turned up Dover Drive, headed for the summer social of the Newport Beach Women’s Democratic Club, which was held at a member’s home on Kings Road in Cliff Haven.

A respite here – we posed with the life-size cardboard cutout of Hillary Clinton, enjoyed the view of the bay and the conversation with newcomers and longtime members, and heard from mayor Diane Dixon, who demonstrated an interest in talking with folk like us. Mayor Dixon suggested lunch; I look forward that and to continuing our conversation.

I left the social early to attend the Planning Commission hearing at City Hall. I listened to the arguments in favor of the proposal to build a car dealership, AutoNation Porsche, along Mariners Mile. Here’s where my jaw dropped. The building is modern, beautifully designed. However, it requires cutting into the bluff behind it; would use elevators rather than ramps to move employees’ cars to the rooftop parking; and it covers 11 parcels.

The residents along Kings Road and those across Pacific Coast Highway in Bayshores will be impacted by noise and traffic, not to mention a building, no matter how attractive, which is utterly out of context with the surrounding community. And we’re talking historic Mariners’ Mile, for which the city, in its timidity, “recommends” but does not demand nautical motifs in new construction.

WTH?

Moreover, in May of this year, the city council voted to pay $206,922 to PlaceWorks, a community planning company, for a six- to nine- month study of Mariners’ Mile, which has proven a perennial conundrum to the city’s planning efforts. Fine, but why then hold hearings on a mammoth project like AutoNation Porsche that will absolutely define Mariners’ Mile before the study you have paid $206,922 for is completed?

“We were not asked to comment on that [project] one ways or the other,” said a spokesman for PlaceWorks.

WTH?

I had to leave for home before the 150 Newport Center Drive project came up for consideration. I drove home appalled at the disregard by both the city council and our planning commission for the charm that Newport Beach has embodied for so long. With other large development projects in the works (Museum House and the Banning Ranch, to name a couple), it’s going, going, and about to be gone.

Pockets of beachiness will remain, though impacted by increasingly dense traffic, but the city could do so much more to preserve the essence of this city and its heritage. It simply lacks the will.

Meanwhile, AutoNation Porsche was tabled for an unspecified date, and 150 Newport Center Drive was continued to the September 1 Planning Commission hearing.

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