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Newport Beach weighs spending nearly $700,000 on upkeep of Balboa Island’s wooden benches

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More than 100 wooden benches, like this one outside Sugar ‘n Spice on Marine Avenue, are all around Balboa Island. Maintaining the benches can cost about $1,000 per bench per year.
(File Photo)

The wooden sidewalk benches around Balboa Island bring a nautical flair to the neighborhood but are sensitive to the elements, requiring that the city of Newport Beach budget almost $700,000 for refurbishments over the next two years — a move the city appears willing to make, with caveats.

The benches, city staff says, have gotten expensive.

Newport maintains 109 benches along with 26 coordinating trash can covers on Marine Avenue and elsewhere around the island. The benches — about half made of teak and the other half hewn from jatoba, also known as Brazilian cherry — were donated over the past 24 years and need to be refinished at least once a year “to meet community requests and expectations,” according to a city staff report. Contractors do that work but haven’t fully refurbished the benches and trash cans in two years.

The city now has one bidder, which submitted a $692,000 proposal last fall. For that price, Ramco, a general engineering contractor in Sylmar, would refresh and repair every bench up to twice a year for two years.

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City public works staff recommends the City Council approve the contract when it meets Tuesday. But staff also says it would like to spend only half the proposed amount by touching up the benches only once a year, and get direction on a long-term maintenance plan “given the high cost to maintain these wood benches and trash cans.”

Staff says the sun, rain and salty marine air have weathered the street furniture much quicker than the Balboa Island Improvement Assn. anticipated when it championed the fixtures in 1996. The benches also are susceptible to damage from vehicles and vandals.

In 2006, when the city had an in-house woodshop and full-time staff carpenters, each bench cost about $400 a year to refinish. Also at that time, the city collected a $1,000 fee per donated bench to cover lifetime maintenance.

The city outsourced woodworking a few years later, and market forces have increased once-yearly refurbishment costs to $960 for a jatoba bench and $1,150 for a teak bench. Including the cost to polish the bronze plaques and maintain the trash cans, the annual total comes to about $148,000. Replacing the plaques would add about $49,000.

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Newport Heights sidewalks

The council Tuesday also will discuss sidewalk options in the Newport Heights neighborhood.

Traffic, and especially how it affects children, is a frequent issue in the Heights, a dense neighborhood above Mariners Mile with three schools within a 1-mile radius. The 2016 death of an 8-year-old boy who was struck by a trash truck while bicycling home from Newport Heights Elementary School has weighed heavily on residents’ minds.

The city and public works staff will discuss improving the sidewalk network on the larger streets closest to Newport Heights Elementary, Ensign Intermediate and Newport Harbor High schools, including Clay Street, Tustin Avenue, Beacon Street and Cliff Drive, where sidewalks can be patchy.

Tuesday’s council meeting starts at 4 p.m. with a study session on the Heights traffic issues. The regular session begins at 7 p.m. at City Hall, 100 Civic Center Drive.

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