Newport’s latest John Wayne and Ronald Reagan honors aren’t universally embraced

Conservative icons John Wayne and Ronald Reagan are getting some shine from the Newport Beach City Council, but not without some disagreement about process and politics.

The council voted Tuesday to rename a small city park after late film legend and former Newport Beach resident Wayne, bypassing the Parks, Beaches and Recreation Commission.

It also heard mostly critical feedback from residents about its decision earlier this month to move a city-owned statue of late former President Reagan from Bonita Canyon Sports Park to the sculpture garden outside the Newport Beach Civic Center, home of City Hall.

The council voted 5-2 to name Ensign View Park in Wayne’s honor, with council members Brad Avery and Diane Dixon dissenting because they wanted to route the item through the parks commission first.

Mayor Kevin Muldoon, who proposed the renaming last month, said a council vote would “cut through a lot of the red tape.”

He said he has spoken to a parks commissioner who had issues with parks being named after people but not about Ensign View Park becoming John Wayne Park. So, Muldoon said, it would likely get the green light from the commission, and the council would approve it eventually.

“I understand why some would like to punt, but I say we just run it into the end zone right now,” he said.

Newport Beach already celebrates John Wayne Day on May 26, the actor’s birthday.

Mayor Pro Tem Marshall “Duffy” Duffield recounted living down the street from Wayne and watching movies at his house.

“John Wayne could have lived anywhere,” Duffield said. “He loved Newport Beach like nothing else and couldn’t wait to come back.”

Avery said he considers Wayne’s son Ethan a friend and said one of the highlights of his youth was having coffee with “the Duke” aboard the actor’s yacht, the Wild Goose.

But, he said, the city’s policy against naming parks after people is a good one because there are more worthy locals than parks to honor them.

“Picking and choosing the most deserving is an impossible task,” Avery said.

The park naming policy has had one exception since it was adopted in 2003: Bob Henry Park at Dover Drive and 16th Street honors a Newport Beach police officer killed in the line of duty.

Dixon said she considered Wayne a “personal hero” and told the council she met him when she was a young girl.

However, she said, “I’m all about process and I take to heart many of the letters we’ve received from members of the Parks, Beaches and Recreation Commission as well as residents who feel they want to be part of this process. I do think we have commissions for that purpose.”

Duffield and Councilman Jeff Herdman argued that Ensign View Park is already named after a person — Horace Ensign, the Newport-Mesa Unified School District’s first teacher-principal. Ensign also is the namesake of the nearby intermediate school.

Wayne lived in Newport Beach from the 1960s until his death in 1979 and had visited the city since the 1920s. He is buried at Pacific View Memorial Park in Corona del Mar, and the Wild Goose is still docked in Newport Harbor.

Ensign View Park is a grassy nook at El Modena Avenue and Cliff Drive, adjacent to the Newport Theatre Arts Center. Muldoon said he chose it to be John Wayne Park because of its proximity to the bay and because it is not as iconic as parks such as Castaways and Back Bay. It also recognizes historical figures such as former presidents Thomas Jefferson and John F. Kennedy with plaques.

Reagan statue’s move draws objections

Not everybody in Newport Beach is chipper about the Gipper.

After the City Council voted April 11 to move the life-size bronze statue of the 40th president to Civic Center Park, some residents pushed back during the public comment period of Tuesday's council meeting.

Susan Savary told the council how her Newport Beach Women’s Democrat Club tried to impress on the council at the time of the statue’s dedication at Bonita Canyon Sports Park in 2011 “how difficult it can be to be a Democrat in Newport Beach.”

She said Reagan, a Republican, can be polarizing and said the city should either put no representations of political figures in Civic Center Park or install a companion sculpture of Kennedy, a Democrat.

Emails to the city before the meeting carried similar sentiments.

“I urge you to preserve our nonpartisan history and keep the Reagan statue in a park that does not represent power the way that City Hall does,” resident Susan Kopicki wrote. “Either that or commission now a statue of [Democratic former president] Barack Obama, who instilled equivalent or greater respect and admiration among Americans.”

Corona del Mar resident Karen Tringali said the park was “never intended to be a political memorial garden.”

“It’s not that I’m opposed to Ronald Reagan per se, but I am opposed to politicizing our public parks by showcasing statues of any political-party-specific individual, president or otherwise,” she wrote.

Muldoon, who initially proposed the Reagan statue relocation, said many locals consider Reagan special and some had personal ties to him.

He said he didn’t want to be divisive.

“It would never be my goal to make someone from another political party feel like they’re not welcome or their thoughts or opinions are not welcome,” Muldoon said.

Resident George Schroeder said highlighting the Reagan statue for partisan reasons would be wrong but that Reagan also was a California resident and governor and left the White House nearly 30 years ago.

“To me, there’s rationale for doing it,” he said.

The council took no new action on the subject.

hillary.davis@latimes.com

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