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Future of Newport Beach Restaurant Assn. is up in the air

Yen Nguyen, left, and Arthur Travieso sample food.
Yen Nguyen, left, and Arthur Travieso sample food during the Newport Beach Restaurant Week kickoff party at the Lincoln Experience Center at Fashion Island on Jan. 9, 2020.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

The future of the Newport Beach Restaurant Assn. is anyone’s guess at this point, as two motions before the Newport Beach City Council earlier this month, one to extend its life by another year and the other to dissolve it, failed to get the necessary votes.

The organization is a business improvement district, meaning businesses within that district are expected to pay an annual levy to finance district-specific improvements or for marketing purposes. Three such districts exist in Newport Beach, including the Newport Beach Restaurant Assn.

The two other districts are for Corona del Mar and the tourism industry. The City Council voted on June 8 to approve the first reading of an ordinance to disestablish the Corona del Mar business improvement district; a second reading of the ordinance will take place June 22.

The Newport Beach Restaurant Assn. was founded in November 1995 to market the local food scene and is responsible for the organization of Newport Beach Restaurant Week, a two-week-long celebration of local restaurants that is traditionally held in January. This year’s was held in May.

City staff said the topic of renewal of the business improvement districts comes up annually. It was initially put on the consent calendar on May 11, but was pulled for discussion.

With the City Council’s actions — or rather, inaction in this case — the business improvement district will become inactive, according to city staff.

The terms for the current board of directors will expire at the end of June. The district will still technically exist, but will be unable to take action without any board members.

The City Council can, at a later time, choose to appoint a new board, approve a new work plan and authorize assessments of businesses or choose to disestablish it.

Council members debated the merits of keeping the business improvement district active, with Councilwoman Diane Dixon calling the timing of the dissolution “punitive, unnecessary and cruel.”

Councilman Will O’Neill pushed back against the accusation, arguing that the issue was a matter of public policy while Mayor Pro Tem Kevin Muldoon added that the decision to dissolve the Newport Beach Restaurant Assn. doesn’t necessarily mean the death of the organization if restaurateurs didn’t want it to be.

“We seem to be concerned about this being bad policy, but this is the same night that we’re looking at our concern for the restaurants being so great that we’re willing to waive all kinds of policy regarding outdoor dining because we know that they’ve been through such a strenuous time,” argued Councilwoman Joy Brenner. “I only think that we need to give them more time because of the circumstances.”

Restaurateurs protested the call to dissolve the organization during the public hearing, but Councilman Duffy Duffield rebuffed commentators and said that much of the public input of the night felt one-sided. Only one speaker was in favor of dissolving the district.

“It’s time we let [the Newport Beach Restaurant Assn.] go and I feel they’d be much better by themselves, working like I have to do,” Duffield said. “The city doesn’t help me. Should I have a rental boat association or something? Can you pay me money and, God forbid, there’s a COVID — that’s irrelevant.”

“We’re all business people. We all have that problem. Nobody is exempt from the COVID and business problems ... I just don’t think it’s fair,” Duffield said.

The votes were tied evenly on both extending and dissolving the Newport Beach Restaurant Assn. with Councilman Noah Blom recusing himself from discussion due to business interests.

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