Once officially the leading citizen of Newport Beach, former mayor Nancy Gardner is now a Citizen of the Year.
The Newport Beach Chamber of Commerce surprised Gardner with the honor Friday in the teal-hued lounge of the Marriott Hotel & Spa, luring her over from a Friends of Newport Beach Animal Shelter board meeting.
She’s a Newport native who cares about animals, the environment and overall municipal health, as shown by a deep civic resume.
She said she honors her hometown and the accomplishments of her late father, former Orange County Superior Court and state appellate judge — and 1968 Citizen of the Year — Robert Gardner with her activity.
“Also, I’ve got grandkids, and we’re not leaving them with the greatest situation,” she said.
She has a keen interest in water quality issues, having cofounded the local chapter of the Surfrider Foundation in the 1990s. She said those issues weren’t a major priority for the city before she brought them with her to the council, and now the city is at the vanguard on water health.
Gardner represented Corona del Mar on the City Council from 2006 to 2014, serving as mayor in 2012.
Friends Debra Allen and Jan Debay urged her to run for council, and while mulling it over, her husband, Jim Switzer, said she attended every meeting anyway.
“Wouldn’t you like to vote?” he asked.
Gardner, 75, has stayed busy since terming out.
The Friends of the Newport Beach Animal Shelter is working toward securing a new home for the critters taken in by Newport animal control. It has already contributed to animals’ lives by covering dental treatment for the pets and a wheelchair for a Labrador retriever without use of its back legs. Fellow Citizens of the Year and one-time councilwomen Jean Watt and Evelyn Hart sit with Gardner on the shelter board.
Her other projects include the boards of Orange Coast River Park and the Natural Communities Coalition, and the city’s General Plan Update Steering Committee. She also attends the city’s Water Quality/Coastal Tidelands Committee meetings, and says she wants the city to start seriously addressing sea level rise.
Council colleague Steve Rosansky, who now runs the Newport Chamber, said they could disagree on the dais. They were on opposite ends of the then-new Civic Center, for example.
He said the council of that era had plenty of disagreement, but also a mutual respect.
“That was the magic of our ‘Dream Team’ City Council,” Rosansky said.
He credited Gardner with preserving the CdM library, which celebrated its grand reopening this month after being rebuilt on the site of the aging original facility.
The Citizen of the Year banquet will take place Nov. 15.