January 2015.

There’s a minor error in the story below … Measure B was a general plan amendment that that rezoned open space to allow for the city hall to relocate from the Peninsula to Newport Center.  Measure B WAS NOT a bond measure to finance the city hall project.  The project’s financing was NEVER approved by voters.  “Certificates of Participation” were used to finance the Taj – they don’t require a public vote.  It’s a sneaky way to encumber debt without the public’s support.   So, we got a $130ish million debt without ever voting on it.



New council seeks insight on Civic Center costs

By Hannah Fry

6:23 PM PST, January 16, 2015

Before Newport Beach embarks on any other building projects, the City Council wants to review how the controversial Civic Center project got off track with unexpected costs and reflect on any lessons learned.

To that end, the council held a study session Tuesday to discuss a staff report on the matter, including a cost analysis of the roughly $142.5-million project and line-item details.

When the Civic Center opened in May 2013, some residents saw it as a symbol of irresponsible spending by a government that was out of touch with the community.

The candidate slate known as “Team Newport,” made up of Mayor Pro Tem Diane Dixon and councilmen Marshall “Duffy” Duffield, Scott Peotter and Kevin Muldoon, made the expensive building a cornerstone of its campaign in November’s election, likening it to the Taj Mahal.

When the group claimed their seats on the council in December, Dixon asked that city staff provide a recap of the scope of the project, as well as any lessons that could be gleaned for future projects. For instance, the previous council said a new Newport Beach Police Department headquarters would be necessary in the coming years.

The Civic Center was funded in large part by Measure B, a bond measure narrowly passed by city voters in 2008. The city covered the remaining cost of the project, according to budget documents presented to the council.

During the campaign for Measure B, the total cost of the Civic Center was estimated at $100 million. However, as years passed, the scope of the project expanded, ultimately including the council chambers, city office building, a 16-acre park with more than a mile of trails, a 450-space parking structure and the 17,000-square-foot expansion of the central library, City Manager Dave Kiff said.

“The Measure B campaign may not have had strong cost analyses — especially for the soft costs, the environmental impact report, the park and more,” according to city documents presented to the council. “As a result, it offered an indefinable cost for a vague project. The public understandably expected this cost at the end.”

The concrete cottontails perching at Civic Center park have also been criticized as an excess associated with the building of City Hall.

The city paid $221,000 for 14 rabbits measuring 4 feet tall, plus a pair of 8-foot bunnies, one of which sits on its haunches near the library while the other looks out from a post closer to the Civic Center.

“The rabbits were included in the landscape package, and we were not aware of the line-item cost,” city staff wrote. “If we had known the line-item cost, we probably would have deleted or replaced them with something more modest.”

However, staff said that there were many “moving parts” to the project and the team was “focused on bigger ticket items that could prove disastrous if mishandled.”

Kiff outlined other lessons learned through the project in his presentation to the council Tuesday, many of which focused on city transparency of the process.

Councilman Keith Curry, who was mayor when the project was being built, defended the project throughout the campaign season. To those who criticize the scope of the project he asks, “tell us what we shouldn’t have built.”

Duffield and Dixon both spoke during the study session about using the information provided when building other city projects.

“I think all is good,” Duffield said. “I don’t want to look back on this.”





Wood-burning beach bonfires could return to Big Corona State Beach and the Balboa Pier, with city fire rings ultimately being thinned and spread to include locations in the Dunes Waterfront Resort and the Newport Pier areas.

The Newport Beach City Council will consider on Tuesday whether to approve plans that would allow wood in the city’s 60 beach fire rings, 10 months after fuel was limited to charcoal-only in order to comply with South Coast Air Quality Management District rules.

The City Council meets for the first time Tuesday since electing four new council members in November. After taking the oath of office at the December meeting, Councilman Scott Peotter, who represents Corona del Mar, immediately requested that the fire rings issue be placed on the Jan. 13 agenda.

According to a map of an interim plan, Big Corona State Beach would have 20 charcoal only rings and seven wood fire rings. The interim plan includes 15 charcoal only rings in the West Balboa/Balboa Pier area, 10 charcoal only rings in the East Balboa/Balboa Pier area, along with eight wood fire rings in the East Balboa area.

The permanent plan would have 18 wood-burning fire rings at Big Corona, including 12 that are spaced 100 feet apart to comply with SCAQMD rules, and six rings spaced between 25 and 50 feet apart. Those rings are more than 700 feet from residences, a distance required by the SCAQMD.

The Balboa Pier area would have 26 rings total, all 100 feet apart. Seven rings would be placed at the Newport Dunes area, and nine would be added at the Newport Pier area. Neither area currently has city fire rings.

The permanent plan would require a development permit from the California Coastal Commission, although the interim plan would not, City Manager Dave Kiff confirmed.

Currently, Big Corona has 27 rings, and the Balboa Pier has 33 rings.

Health advocates and wood smoke opponents Frank and Barbara Peters, who live near Big Corona State Beach, said they were not surprised by news that wood might return to the beach fires. The Peters have expressed concerns about serious health impacts of breathing wood smoke, and although they had pushed for all rings to be removed, Frank Peters said he now believes that the charcoal only rings are a good compromise.

“We knew this was going to come back,” he said. “This will take the rest of our lives.”

Peters said he’s reached out to City Council members, asking to meet with them to urge the status quo of charcoal only. If wood fires return, he said, wind will at times blow smoke straight into his home, damaging his and his neighbors’ health.

“It only takes one (fire),” he said. Spacing them 100 feet apart won’t help, he said. If the City Council approves the plans, he said, he would fight them at the Coastal Commission.

The City Council voted in March 2012 to remove all beach fire rings. The issue went before the California Coastal Commission, then caught the attention of the SCAQMD, which at one point proposed banning all beach fire rings in Los Angeles and Orange counties. In July 2013, the agency instead amended beach bonfire rules, including creating the 700-foot buffer between fire rings and homes.

In November 2013, the city considered a new plan that would have removed more than half the city’s fire rings, but that plan never went before the Coastal Commission for approval. Eventually, the City Council approved the charcoal only rule, and city funds paid for charcoal to be given free to some beach visitors. The city, however, never obtained a coastal development permit for the charcoal only plan, and in November, staff said that the permit request was on hold.

The current City Council has only two members who voted in 2012 to remove fire rings. When asked if the existing council was likely to agree with her, Barbara Peters shrugged.

“It just depends on which way the wind is blowing,” she said.