June 2015.



NEWPORT BEACH – The city’s new $135 million Civic Center, dubbed the “Taj Mahal” by many, was not envisioned in a day.

Nor will it be paid for in a day. By the time the city pays for its dream home – and the cost of financing it over 30 years – the total bill to taxpayers will be at least $237 million, city finance documents show.

“The amount of money spent here is obscene for a Civic Center,” said Denys Oberman, a longtime resident and a vocal critic of the project. “With all the infrastructural needs we have, the council, with this project, has indebted our city. This is an example of irresponsibility.”

City officials defend the Civic Center and park project as a good investment. Designed to be both smart and beautiful, the finished product will be energy-efficient and durable enough to last a century, officials say.

“We get defensive about it because we see it as a once-in-a-lifetime project – and five or six projects in one,” City Manager Dave Kiff said. “People forget that. They say, ‘It’s just a city hall.’ … I think some of them will change their minds when they see the site, use the building, walk in the park. I would hope people would withhold their judgment until they see it and use it.”

A review of the project’s planning documents, contracts, invoices and change orders by the Orange County Register shows how the cost of the project tripled from an estimated $46 million in 2005 to a final projected cost closer to $139 million today.

•The scope of the project expanded from a new city hall, parking garage and upgraded fire station at the site of the old city hall on Balboa Peninsula, as envisioned in 2005, to a sprawling Civic Center on a park-like plot of ocean-view land just below Newport Center. Voters approved the site change in 2008, paving the way for the more ambitious project.

•City interest groups, including law enforcement and library officials, the public, and council members, asked for expensiveadditions to the project, including a community room, an emergency-readiness center, an expanded library, sculpture gardens, a pedestrian bridge, and a dog park.

•The city is funding most of the project with certificate-of-participation bonds that will cost taxpayers at least $225 million to repay principal and interest and will not be retired until 2040. If the city fails to get expected federal subsidies on the bonds, the cost will climb to $278 million.

For its money, Newport Beach will get a 95,000-square-foot, energy-efficient office building that includes council chambers and a community room, an emergency-readiness center in the basement, a 17,000-square-foot expansion of the Central Library, a 450-space parking garage sunk into the ground to preserve ocean views, 16 acres of parks including a pedestrian bridge, a Civic Green and public art, according to a presentation available on the city’s website.

The sprawling glass and steel Civic Center will be topped with a wavelike roof and furnished with high-end furniture and fixtures, including 204 leather Herman Miller chairs designed by modernist designers Charles and Ray Eames, at a cost of $1,073 each, according to city invoices.

Even the lawns will be carefully decorated, according to cost breakdowns prepared by the city. The city plans to pay $902 for professionals to pose15 rabbit sculptures at the site.

Assistant City Manager Steve Badum, the project manager for the city, said the project is being built at a time when construction and finance costs are low.

“When we look at this project several years from now, it will seem like a pretty good bargain,” Badum said.


The final design for the project was a decade in the making, rooted in a humble request brought before council members by city staff in 2001: create more space for city employees to work. Initial options for the expansion included trailers alongside city buildings on Balboa Peninsula, according to a staff report presented to the City Council at its Oct. 11, 2005 meeting.

With 37,880 square feet of usable space spread among five buildings, the City Hall was 11 percent to 25 percent too small, an assessment of the city’s space determined in 2002. The layout was inefficient, and some buildings fell short of accessibility and earthquake-safety standards, the assessment said.

By the end of 2005, the working plans for the expansion included a new City Hall of up to 79,000 square feet, a 350-space parking garage, a community center, and an upgrade of Fire Station No. 2 – all at the site of the old City Hall, according to council documents. One preliminary cost estimate was $46.4 million.

Not everyone agreed that the new city offices should be on Balboa Peninsula. Debate about the best spot for the project prompted study of various options in 2006. The estimated cost to build the project on the ocean-view plot of city-owned land north of the Central Library was $55.2 million. (City manager Kiff says this estimate did not include some of the design costs and furnishings.)

Residents ended the debate by approving Measure B in 2008, voting by a narrow margin (52.9 percent in favor) to move City Hall from the Lido Village area to Newport Center. At the time, there was no price tag attached to the project, although critics such as Oberman say there was an understanding it was going to stay in the neighborhood of $60 million.

“They did not stay with the original plan and certainly not with the original budget,” she said.


City Council minutes and planning documents show the scope of the project changed dramatically after residents approved Measure B, and projected costs quickly mounted.

The library needed more parking, which increased the size of the parking garage to 450 spaces, according to city documents. The library also needed more space, which resulted in a 17,000-square-foot expansion being added to the plan. A connection between the library and the city offices made sense to city officials, so that was included. The cost of the expansion and the connector was estimated at about $12 million.

The bigger parking garage blocked “protected views” of the ocean, so it had to be sunk into the ground. The estimated cost of excavation and a large shoring wall was about $8 million.

Community arts and culture representatives wanted a big community room to hold lecture series and other events.

Residents wanted a park on the 12-acre patch of land, and that required an estimated $15 million for development including trails, bridges, viewing areas, and an off-leash area for dogs.

The City Council stipulated that the project must achieve a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certification of silver or better from the U.S. Green Building Council. To get the certification, the project’s energy-efficient design includes a raised floor system, advanced lighting and climate-control technology, and plentiful use of natural light and ventilation, the estimated cost of which was at least $1 million. City officials say they expect the energy-efficient design to generate $85,000 per year in utility savings for the life of the building.

The city held a design competition and selected five architecture firms as finalists. They gave the five finalists $50,000 each to submit a preliminary design, then chose San Francisco-based design firm Bohlin Cywinski Jackson.

In November 2009, the city hired C.W. Driver as construction manager for the project. Total cost estimates for the project then ranged from $82 million to $140 million, with the city’s target pegged at about $105 million (or $109 million with a pedestrian bridge), according to a staff report and videotapes of the Nov. 10, 2009 council meeting.

The design was revised some more, and by February 2011, total costs were estimated at $131.4 million to $135 million.


One of the most expensive and controversial add-ons to the project was the $2 million pedestrian bridge across San Miguel Drive. The bridge, which was added to the project during the Nov. 29, 2011 council meeting, connects the Civic Center park to the smaller dog park across the street. It was the subject of spirited debate among council members, and some people have pointed to it as a symbol of the spare-no-expense mentality among city leaders.

Councilman Ed Selich was a staunch supporter of the footbridge, which he described as a “capstone” of the Civic Center project.

“Having the bridge really helps the park function as one,” he said. “The Civic Center will be our legacy for future generations; it will be the symbol of our city. At this time, $2 million may seem like a lot. But it is only 2 percent of our project cost.”

Other council members disagreed, saying the bridge was unnecessary, expensive, and a possible magnet for problems, including liability and graffiti.

“This is a waste of $2 million,” Councilman Steve Rosansky said. “Who is going to use this bridge?”

Rosansky cautioned fellow council members about getting carried away with the project.

“We can gold-plate this thing, we can put solar on the roof, we can do many things,” he said. “But we don’t have an unlimited budget. I don’t want to fritter the money away.”

Instead of adding the cost of the bridge to the project’s bottom line, council members opted to creatively finance it by taking advantage of C.W. Driver’s offer to contribute $1 million from its contingency fund – the wiggle room in its budget – if the city contributed $1 million from the city’s contingency fund.

The deciding vote on the matter was cast by Mike Henn, who previously had opposed what he described as “a bridge to nowhere.”

Henn said he decided to vote for the bridge because the city had an opportunity to take advantage of C.W. Driver’s offer, as opposed to waiting and deciding to build the bridge later at a greater cost.

As of Wednesday, the final cost of the bridge had not been determined because work was not complete and change orders were pending.

The change order for the bridge involves “zinc panel cladding” – a type of textured finish – to cover the concrete on the bridge’s elevator tower, Badum said. The city’s building committee recommended the zinc finish as “economical” compared with other decorative touches, including landscaping and other finishes, he said.

Why zinc panel cladding as opposed to bare concrete?

Said Badum: “Because it looks nice.”


The final cost of the project still has not been determined because work is still under way. The city plans to do a final cost analysis once the project is complete. In the meantime, Badum said, he would rather not speculate.

The council also soon will consider a request from former mayor Don Webb to add the original colors on the city seals at the new Civic Center. Webb pointed out during a recent council meeting that a modernist, brushed-aluminum disc with the city seal engraved on it lacks the original colors – splashes of blue, gold, red and white – used by artist Rexford Brandt, who was commissioned in 1957 to create the seal for the city.

Council members agreed that the modernist interpretations of the seals seem dull, so they will look into revising all four seals at the new Civic Center or at least the one hanging in council chambers. These revisions could end up costing thousands of dollars.

While the city may realize savings in some areas, an Orange County Register review of contracts and change orders determined that some projected costs have increased from estimates on the city’s website. For example, a change order dated Dec. 7, 2012 increases C.W. Driver’s contract to $107.9 million – about $1.4 million more than the amount originally approved.

Other contract amendments and invoices also show costs greater than the projections stated on the city’s website.

Invoices for furniture and fixtures for the project as of June 26, 2012, show costs of about $2.6 million – about $600,000 more than the projected cost listed on the city’s spreadsheet. The council approved an additional $500,000 for furniture and fixtures for the library expansion, bringing the grand total for approved spending to $3.1 million, or $1.1 million greater than the projected costs on the city’s documents.

Added onto the bottom line, the changes bring the total projected cost closer to $139 million, which was the top end of an estimate in a staff report presented to the City Council as the design neared competition in November 2009. But city officials say it’s also possible that there will be cost savings, unexpended contingencies and other last-minute changes that reduce that final total.

Councilwoman Leslie Daigle says the city has done a good job of controlling costs and shepherding the project.

“I’m happy with the way the project was managed,” she said. “The city is strong financially, we have steady sources of revenue and a AAA credit rating. We did the project correctly by entering into a fixed-price agreement with the construction manager.”

Other council members also have defended the city’s management of the project and its need for a spacious new home – despite the recent downsizing of staff and the possibility of more staff reductions if the city outsources services as proposed in recent months.

Badum said he wasn’t concerned that the city would have too much space. He said the city could lease out any extra space to local organizations and businesses.

Still, some residents have questioned whether the finished product is excessive and whether residents knew what they and council were approving as the project grew in scope and cost.

As a comparison, the city of Laguna Niguel built a city hall in 2011 at Crown Valley and Alicia parkways. Although Newport Beach and Laguna Niguel had the same construction manager, C.W. Driver, Laguna Niguel paid $4 million to acquire the land from the county and spent about $24 million on construction. The entire project was paid for in cash because of years of saving by city officials.

Despite more than 40 community meetings held by the city to discuss the Newport Beach Civic Center project, some residents did not get a clear view of the costs each component added to the project, said Ron Hendrickson, one of several people behind the ballot measure to put the Civic Center in Newport Center.

Hendrickson, formerly an architect and planner with the Irvine Co., said those who voted for the measure did so under the assumption that the budget for the project would be $60 million, as originally estimated.

“I still support the project, but I have questions about several superfluous features such as the dog park, pedestrian bridge and that sail which we could have lived without,” he said. “Although I’m supportive of the project, I don’t think the project was ever well-explained to residents.”

The sail Hendrickson mentioned is another one of the Civic Center’s architectural features – a giant, glow-in-the-dark, fabric sail created by a scrim of Teflon-coated mesh draped over the council chambers to evoke a flying spinnaker.

Badum said the City Council wanted an iconic building, and that became an “extremely complex” project. Ultimately, the cost of the City Hall building works out to about $600 per square foot – or about $660 per resident, according to the Register’s calculations – a hefty sum, but one that is reasonable for the quality of the once-in-a-century office building, he said.

“I don’t think (the City Council) or the public for that matter realized what they asked for when they asked for this building at this location,” Badum says. “This is no cheap tilt-up. This is a high-quality building, something that would last a century. In the end, you really get what you pay for.”

Register Staff Writers Mike Reicher and Taylor Hill contributed to this report.

Contact the writer: [email protected];[email protected]



The process that Newport Beach used to construct its $140 million Civic Center project will get an outsider’s perspective.

City Council members voted Tuesday to start the process of auditing the city’s Civic Center project, which took about five years to complete and had a final price tag of about $140.2 million.

The audit will be limited to $100,000, and take a look at how the project grew and its cost and scope over time. The audit would involve both an independent firm and independent manager to oversee the process. The audit would have a March deadline.

The Civic Center project included a new city hall, a 17,000-square-foot library expansion, a 14-acre park, a 450-space parking structure and a pedestrian bridge. The majority of the work was complete by April 2013.

Critics of the Civic Center’s cost have called for an audit for years. The project started as a modest rebuild at the old city hall site on the Balboa Peninsula, but eventually costs ballooned after the facility moved locations, added on a pedestrian bridge, library expansion and suffered from delays.

The audit would review the construction contracts and subcontractor bids, and compare the full project cost and change order costs of the Civic Center construction with similar projects. It will also consider whether the final cost of the Civic Center was affected by using one company – C.W. Driver – as both lead contractor and project manager, if delays increased costs and whether the project was properly transparent.

City staff had done its own review of the construction process, but council members Diane Dixon and Kevin Muldoon asked for an outside firm’s perspective. Dixon said Tuesday the audit would be “neither a witch hunt or a whitewash,” but would reinforce best practices for the city when it takes on large construction projects in the future.

Mike Glenn, a Balboa Peninsula resident, said he wasn’t happy with the scope of the audit – residents want a more detailed report, he said.

“This is not what we want,” Glenn said. “We need to go deeper and get a forensic audit.”

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



If all goes as planned, City Councilman Steven Rosansky will get his wish to deliver his farewell speech at the Newport Beach Civic Center.

For the past decade, the project has been the subject of fierce debate – over the cost, which soared from an architect’s construction estimate of $60 million in 2008 to $131.4 million today including design work, and the sheer scope of the design, which some have dubbed the Taj Mahal.

Rosansky says he’s determined to have his last meeting as a councilman there, “even if it means doing it with a card table and seven chairs.”

That won’t be necessary. While construction on the Civic Center project is still under way, the council chambers are expected to be ready for the Dec. 11 meeting.

Graphic: Newport Beach’s new civic center

The project – with a wave-shaped roof and several lookout points with ocean views – make it unique to Newport and much more than a City Hall, said City Manager Dave Kiff.

Designed by an innovative architect, the building will have state-of-the-art green features that take advantage of the ocean breezes and mild temperatures to save energy.

The Civic Center also will house a library, a parking garage, two parks including a dog park and bridges overlooking wetlands. A pedestrian bridge over San Miguel Drive, now under construction, will link two large parks.

Rosansky sees it as a great unifier.

“It seems as if we all live on our own islands in this city – Balboa Island, Lido Isle, Linda Isle, Newport Coast, Corona del Mar,” he said. “This is one thing that brings us all together. It is a Civic Center we can all use. We’ve created something really special here.”


2001: Analysis of the aging City Hall on Newport Boulevard finds it had serious problems, especially lack of workspace.

2002-07: Residents debate funding and location for a new City Hall. One estimate is$48 million to rebuild at current site.

February 2008: Voters approve Measure B, which designates the city-owned land on Avocado Avenue as the new City Hall site.

November 2008: City Council selects architectural firm of Bohlin Cywinski Jackson to design City Hall, a park and a 450-space parking structure. Architect’s estimated cost of construction: $60 million

November 2009: City Council approves revised design: added 17,000-square-foot library expansion; emergency operations center; larger City Hall; lusher landscaping; doubled size of community auditorium; new dog park. Low-end construction cost estimate: $105 million

April 2010: Total cost-estimate $130 million, includes design, furnishings, environmental studies, construction management

May 2010: Groundbreaking and land excavation begins

November 2010: City Council approves bonds to finance the Civic Center project. Total bonds sold: $128 million

February 2011: City Council approves contract for City Hall, library expansion and park construction. Revised estimate: $131 million

– Mike Reicher



“The expense for this project is significant, there is no question about that. But this is a beautiful, state-of-the-art building that is going to serve the citizens of Newport Beach for a very long time. This is a facility of which we are all going to be extremely proud.”

– Dave Kiff, city manager

“The cost for this project is absolutely justified because of what we get in return. This is not just one or two city hall buildings. We are talking about a Civic Center that unifies our entire city into one community.

– Steve Rosansky, City Councilman


“Spending so much money on a Civic Center with extravagant design features during these financial times is unwarranted for a city. As a Republican town, Newport Beach residents are not in favor of government spending. It is interesting that the city on the one hand says it has enough money to spend on this project, but on the other hand, increases tideland fees.”

– John Heffernan, former councilman

“I feel confident that it is an excessive cost. That land was given to the city as open space by the Irvine Company since it was considered as unbuildable land. In my opinion, the city has wasted a lot of money there. It could have been put somewhere less expensive.”

– Allan Beek, former council candidate and longtime resident

Contact the writer: 714-796-7909 or [email protected]


Commentary: `Team Newport’ is asking the right questions on council

By Bob McCaffrey

5:00 PM PDT, June 10, 2015

I found Mayor Pro Tem Diane Dixon’s recent column regarding her support of the Newport Beach budget refreshing (“Commentary: Budget process isn’t perfect, but council has a record of fiscal responsibility,” May 29).

She was one of four votes supporting the budget. Some were surprised she didn’t join with Councilmen Marshall “Duffy” Duffield, Scott Peotter and Kevin Muldoon in opposing the budget.

I wasn’t. Duffield, Muldoon and Peotter clearly stated that the $284 million budget needed more work, public scrutiny and scrubbing by the Finance Committee.

It took 30 years for Newport to become the most expensive local government in Orange County. Peotter recently revealed that the no votes cast against this year’s budget were the first in 30 years.

Is this a coincidence or the start of a generation of unabated spending?

I view Dixon’s vote for the budget and subsequent editorial as a wake-up call for those married to the status quo.

She outlined specific reforms for the citizens’ Finance Committee to review with the goal of midyear budget reductions. Imagine that — cutting the budget in Newport Beach!

Dixon, Duffield, Peotter and Muldoon ran on a platform of fiscal discipline, reduced spending and reform. It’s been just six months since they took office.

Campaign promises have been kept, and I am hopeful that the Civic Center, or the “Taj Mahal” audit proposed by Dixon and Muldoon will move forward.

I have watched Duffield implore the staff to get sensible about its over-spending on harbor projects. He is a harbor expert that staff and his colleagues should listen to.

We should thank Peotter for challenging the staff and old guard. The debate he fosters is healthy for an organization that has become too expensive and complacent. He is respectful of his colleagues, even if they disagree. No name-calling or hissy fits.

Muldoon has proven to be a man of his word, working to lower the dock tax and help other harbor businesses that were pillaged by the previous council. Muldoon has a keen legal mind that serves us well when the un-elected staff attempts to make policy.

I believe a round of applause is due Team Newport. In just six months they’ve started to implement the change they promised. It’s a healthy work in progress.

Balboa Island resident BOB MCCAFFREY is volunteer chairman of Residents for Reform


The battle over beach fire rings in Newport Beach, which over the past three years embroiled everyone from homeowners to state health officials, is almost over.

Staff for the California Coastal Commission is recommending that the agency approve the city’s plan to provide 64 wood and charcoal fire rings on three local beaches. The commission is expected to vote on the issue Thursday at Newport Beach City Hall.

Newport Beach Mayor Ed Selich described the plan as a good compromise that won’t please everyone.

“Given the difficulty of navigating this path … I feel good that we’re here,” Selich said. “What initially seemed to be a simple problem to solve turned pretty complicated.

“This has not been good for the image of Newport Beach.”

Fire rings became a point of contention in the city three years ago, when some homeowners in Corona del Mar asked the city to remove the fire pits, saying nightly exposure to the smoke is unhealthy.

But other residents objected to their removal, calling fire pits a Newport Beach tradition.

From there, the squabble grew. Eventually, the issue of fire pits in Newport Beach was taken up by city officials, the Coastal Commission, the Southern California Air Quality Management District, state legislators and at least one regional advocacy group, Friends of the Fire Rings.

Many solutions were explored.

In 2012, the City Council sought permission from the Coastal Commission to remove the fire rings entirely, only to withdraw that request when the commission balked.

One state proposal would have protected wood-burning pits, but it died last year in committee.

Last year, the city set a plan that allowed only charcoal-burning fire pits. But the Coastal Commission ended that, telling the city that it needed a state permit to make any significant changes to the pits.

Opponents who live near the fire rings fear negative health effects of long-term, regular exposure to wood smoke. Some were willing to support charcoal fire pits.

But proponents of wood-burning pits, including members of Friends of the Fire Rings, argue that charcoal doesn’t produce a strong flame or significant light after sunset.

The charcoal vs. wood question was tested by Coastal Commission staff, according to the Coastal Commission report. Though they concluded that wood makes a better bonfire, they said charcoal isn’t worthless.

“A charcoal fire ring is not equivalent to a wood fire ring experience, but there appears to be demand – though not equivalent demand – for both options,” the report says.

Denys Oberman, a Balboa Peninsula resident who is part of the Friends of the Fire Rings group that consists of 4,500 city residents and area business owners, said the fire ring plan offers something for visitors who use the fire pits irregularly and beach residents who are concerned about environmental impacts.

The compromise is more about location than numbers.

Under the plan, 64 rings would be available in the city. That’s slightly more than the 60 pits now in the city. But some pits at current sites will be relocated, and the new pits will be added to Newport Dunes, away from most residents.

The report identifies four fire ring locations:

• East of Balboa Pier, with seven wood-burning and eight charcoal-only pits, four of which would be wheelchair-accessible.

• West of Balboa Pier, where there would be nine wood-burning and eight charcoal rings, including four with wheelchair access.

• Corona del Mar State Beach, which would have 16 wood-burning and eight charcoal-only rings, with four wheelchair-accessible.

• Newport Dunes Waterfront Resort and Marina will have eight wood-burning rings, up from four now.

Oberman said many residents will be happy if the city makes good on its promise to supervise the use of fire rings and ensure their upkeep.

As part of the plan, the city will supervise and maintain the rings at the Balboa Pier and Corona del Mar State Beach and could issue citations for anyone who uses the wrong fuel.

The beach at Newport Dunes is overseen by the county. Details of how those rings will be supervised haven’t been finalized, according to the commission report.

The city also is proposing to sell charcoal near Corona del Mar State Beach and the Balboa Pier during high-use times, usually between Memorial Day and mid-October. City staff would clean out the fire rings daily during summer months and inspect them on weekdays during the winter.

Newport Beach Mayor Selich said if the city’s plan is approved by the commission, it will need to go back to the City Council for final approval. Timing on that has not been set.

To read the commission’s full fire rings management plan, go tocoastal.ca.gov.

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

Timeline of Newport’s fire rings

May 2012: The city applies for a coastal development permit from the Coastal Commission to remove its 60 fire rings.

July 2013: Newport Beach withdraws the application. The South Coast Air Quality Management District amends rules for fire rings to require a 700-foot buffer between the wood-burning rings and residences, or that they be spaced at least 100 feet apart.

November 2013: City starts developing plan to space out rings to meet SCAQMD rule. City Council votes to remove more than half of its wood-burning rings and replace some with gas-fueled models.

January 2014: City Council passes ordinance limiting fuel that can be used in fire rings.

March 2014: Newport Beach adopts a charcoal-only policy to immediately comply with SCAQMD rule after ordinance goes into effect.

June 2014: City receives letter from commission saying change in fuel required coastal development permit.

July 2014: City submits charcoal-only pilot program for fire rings to Coastal Commission.

January 2015: City Council approves temporary switch to a mix of wood-burning and charcoal rings, and the total number of rings is reduced to 56. Ten possible permanent plans are submitted to the commission.

Source: California Coastal Commission report, city of Newport Beach