March 2016.


March 23, 2016

Hannah FryContact Reporter

After months of back and forth between city staff and council members, Newport Beach leaders Tuesday again rejected a proposal to increase local wastewater rates.

The City Council voted 5-2 to deny staff’s proposal to increase rates over a five-year period for removal and treatment of wastewater, which includes sewage and water from sinks and showers, known as “gray water.” Mayor Diane Dixon and Councilman Keith Curry dissented.

Residential and commercial water users in Newport Beach are charged on their regular bills for wastewater service. A typical single-family household currently pays about $9.75 per month.

The proposed rate increase would have meant the same homeowner would pay $11.89 per month beginning in May and for the rest of 2016. The monthly rate for most customers would have increased to $13.16 in 2017, $14.64 in 2018, $16.21 in 2019 and $18.02 in 2020.

Municipal Operations Director George Murdoch said the increase was necessary to move forward with sewer line repairs and other projects to maintain the city’s 50-year-old sewer system. The fund for wastewater service, he said, is quickly running out of money.

“I’m shocked that the council didn’t approve this,” he said.

A need for an increase in sewer rates was cited when the city completed its Sewer Master Plan in 2010. The plan identified several capital improvement projects necessary to upgrade the sewer system. However, the council at the time did not increase the rates, partly because of the recession, officials have said.

Since the most recent rate increase in 2005, the city has outsourced various water services and reduced expenditures in the capital improvement program, but it wasn’t enough to stave off an increase forever, Murdoch said.

In 2013, the city contracted with HF&H, an Irvine-based consulting firm, to study rates for wastewater and recycled-water services. Based on the study, the City Council decided in June 2014 to halve the cost to ratepayers of recycled water.

However, the study concluded that the city needs to bulk up its wastewater fund if it wants to pay for system improvements that are expected to cost about $30 million over the next 30 years. HF&H projected the city would have to dip into reserves to fund the projects, which by 2017 could wipe out the $900,000 wastewater reserve.

But on Tuesday, Councilmen Scott Peotter and Kevin Muldoon indicated that instead of the city demanding more money from taxpayers, a portion of Newport’s $14.2 million operating-budget surplus should fund the sewer system.

“I’d rather have the general fund write the check,” Peotter said. “We need to apply the resources we have more wisely.”

Curry disagreed, saying the surplus money should go to fund one-time projects, not ongoing operational costs.

“If we don’t set our fees in such a way that they create adequate revenues to pay for the cost of the service and to pay for the reserves that we need for the program, then what’s going to happen is we will create a manufactured structural deficit to the sewer fund, which will have to be subsidized by the general fund,” Curry said. “It is simply financial mismanagement.”

The council’s action Tuesday is the latest turn in a months-long effort by city staff to increase wastewater rates to maintain funding for sewer projects.

In January, the council voted 4-3 to initially approve the rate plan. It also initially approved giving each residential customer a one-time rebate of about $55 to cover the cost of the rate increase for three years.

However, when the ordinance returned to the council for final approval in February, the vote was 4-3 to reject it.

Councilman Ed Selich, who had first voted for the rate increase, switched his vote in an effort to kill the rebate, he said.

Dixon had proposed that the rebate be funded with about $1.7 million in surplus from the general fund.

“It’s bad public policy to commingle those funds,” Selich said of the general fund and the sewer enterprise fund, which is used for capital improvement projects.

Selich said he voted against the rate increase again Tuesday after resident Jim Mosher commented about how the increase might unfairly burden residential customers who use a significant portion of their water on landscaping and are charged as if all the water is going into the sewer.

“There seems to be some inequity, and we need to look into it,” Selich said.

Copyright © 2016, Daily Pilot–.html


Some regard Newport Beach as a vapid enclave for the wealthy, a world of $300,000 Ferraris, tony addresses and oh-so trendy shops at Fashion Island.

But there is more to this beach city than its status seekers. In many ways, Newport Beach is surprisingly normal both for its successes and its struggles. Still, many of those issues are larger than what most cities ever face.

Don’t forget it was Newport Beach that joined the unsuccessful attempt 15 years ago to get a commercial airport built at the former El Toro Marine base to replace John Wayne Airport.

This is a city where the average income is in the six figures and whose leaders are well-equipped to compete for tourist dollars, cope with aging infrastructure and grapple with heated fights over development.

The new City Hall and Civic Center turned into an economic hand-grenade after construction costs soared to more than $150 million. That controversy was a skirmish compared with the issues surrounding the 401-acre beachfront development known as Banning Ranch.

The biggest threat to Newport Beach is nothing less than climate change. City engineers warn that rising oceans could flood large areas of seafront property. The looming question is who pays?


Diane Dixon permanently moved to Newport Beach about three years ago from Pasadena and immediately jumped into politics. After a short stint on the City Council, the USC grad became mayor and promised to reduce Newport’s long-term debt.

She points to her background for being able to make that promise. Before briefly working for the Irvine Co., she served as senior vice president for corporate affairs and communications at Avery Dennison Corp., a publicly traded Fortune 500 company.

For too long, Dixon says, the city postponed certain projects. She notes the need for half-century-old private docks to be rebuilt, harbor dredging and mitigating rampant eelgrass. “It’s part of the circle of life to replenish public infrastructure.”

Still, Dixon has concerns. “Our unfunded pension liability,” she says, “keeps me up at night.” She says CalPERS keeps moving the goalpost and estimates the city’s liability at $250 million.

A review of city projects finds deteriorated and sometimes broken cast iron water mains in Corona del Mar (updates will be made this summer); an outdated 60-year-old fire station (to be rebuilt by mid-2017); the bridge that connects Big Balboa Island with Little Balboa Island declared “functionally obsolete” by Caltrans (a new bridge is scheduled to be complete by the end of this year).

But the need for beefed up seawalls dwarfs those projects. Dixon estimates the cost to replace or repair seawalls at $100 million.

A few years ago, I talked with Newport Beach Assistant City Engineer Robert Stein. He joked that in 90 years there’s a good chance residents on Balboa Island during high tides “will get in kayaks and go downtown to get supplies.”

Stein made the comment lightly. But his prediction about rising sea levels was serious.

Today, city records describe the problem of 75- to 85-year-old seawalls in more genteel terms. But their warnings are even more dire: “There are a few segments around Balboa Island that are not quite high enough should we experience extremely high tides and waves.”

The report goes on to note that six years ago, seawater flowed over seawalls during a moderate storm surge at high tide. Three years later, ocean water touched the top of seawalls during a king tide with no wind or waves.

The city report concludes, “Should there be further rise in sea level, longer segments of the existing seawall around Balboa Island could be subjected to this overtopping.”

Design options and style concepts are scheduled to be posted online this month.

“We are doing today,” Dixon says of the seawalls, “what we should have done 40 years ago.”


Numerous development projects dot the city. They range from a seven-story, 49-unit collection of condos with subterranean parking near Fashion Island to a luxury, 130-room hotel on 4.25 acres in Lido Village.

But the whale is Banning Ranch, a massive swath of coastal bluffs, wetlands, abandoned oil wells and land east of the Santa Ana River and north of Pacific Coast Highway.

For years, developers and environmentalists fought over its future.

Finally, it looked like the area would be open for both development and public use.

Three years ago, the Newport Beach City Council approved building 1,375 homes and 75,000 square feet of retail on 95 acres. That would have left some 300 acres of open space.

Still, environmentalists went to war.

The Banning Ranch Conservancy rallied its troops to make the entire ranch a nature preserve. The Save Newport Banning Ranch crowd followed suit.

“Banning Ranch is the largest parcel of unprotected coastal open space and wetland property remaining in Orange County,” Save Newport Banning Ranch stated, “and can provide public access to many outdoor recreational activities such as hiking and biking.”

Last fall, the California Coastal Commission basically agreed with the protesters and declared the land important to “sensitive coastal species.” One of those species is the California gnatcatcher, a little bird that has been the bane of developers for decades.

Developers caved, downgrading their plans to what many people would consider more than a reasonable compromise. The latest proposal is for 895 residential units on 53 acres, a 75-room boutique hotel and 45,000 square feet of retail space. That leaves 323 acres of open space.

The next Coastal Commission meeting on the matter is slated for May. Already, the Banning Ranch Conservancy is gearing up. The group’s rallying cry: “Let’s fight for every cubic inch of Banning Ranch that we can save in May!”

Perhaps they forgot the entire area is private land.

Contact the writer: [email protected]


2016-03-08 23:07:16

Newport Beach will ask a state agency to reconsider their restrictions on beach fire rings.

The Newport Beach City Council voted 5-2 to send a letter to the South Coast Air Quality Management District, asking the state board to reconsider a rule that requires wood-burning fire rings within 700 feet of residences to be spaced 100 feet apart.

The letter will ask the air quality governing board to reconsider those regulations, first passed in 2013. If the board removed that restriction, fire rings could move back to their pre-2013 footprint if Coastal Commission gives its approval.

Councilman Scott Peotter, who suggested the letter, said with a recent shift in the makeup of the governing board, the fire ring regulations could find less support. The Air Quality board voted 7-6 on March 4 to oust its top executive, Barry Wallerstein, after moving into a Republican-controlled membership.

The city’s beach fire ring plan, which includes both wood-burning and charcoal-burning fire rings, will involve relocating some rings around Corona del Mar State Beach, the Balboa Pier and several around Newport Dunes. It’s also estimated to cost $165,000 per year to employ a private security firm to ensure people at charcoal-only rings don’t use wood around the Balboa Pier and Corona del Mar State Beach.

Peotter said his ultimate goal is to keep beach fire rings in their current footprint. The city’s plan, approved by the Coastal Commission, would mean moving some of the rings when the commission’s permit finally arrives at the city.

“People are going to be ticked if we implement this (plan),” Peotter said of moving the fire rings.

Councilmen Keith Curry and Ed Selich voted against sending the letter. Selich said the fighting between residents worried about wood smoke and residents trying to preserve beach bonfires “tore the community apart.”

“You’re really opening up a can of worms here,” Selich said to council members supporting the letter.

Before the most recent Coastal Commission-approved plan, the city had 60 fire rings at Big Corona beach and the Balboa Pier.

Roughly five years ago, the council looked at whether all beach fire rings should be removed due to health concerns raised by several residents. The council voted to remove the rings in March 2012, and applied for a permit with the Coastal Commission for their removal. The city eventually removed its application in 2013 when it became clear the commission thought the rings should be preserved.

In July 2013, the air quality board voted 7-6 to approve regulations that govern beach fire rings, and the city the next year moved to limit all rings to only charcoal fuel.

The new council in November 2014 sought a different path, and early last year adopted a plan that kept some wood-burning and some charcoal rings to meet all rules, adding some at Newport Dunes. The Coastal Commission approved much of the new plan, but the city does not yet have the permit from the commission.

City manager Dave Kiff said beach visitors sometimes get frustrated with the new regulations of charcoal in some rings and wood in the others.

“We’re just making people unhappy with this,” Kiff said.

Contact the writer: 714-796-7990 or [email protected]

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