Kiff reflects on 20 years of service to Newport Beach City Hall

Newport Beach City Manager Dave Kiff, center, talks with his predecessor Homer Bludau, left, and former mayor Rush Hill.
(Photo by Hillary Davis)

Dave Kiff is a few weeks from retirement as the city manager of Newport Beach and ready to reminisce.

At a “fairly silly but a little bit serious” retrospective Thursday morning at the Newport Beach Chamber of Commerce Wake Up Newport breakfast mixer, Kiff looked back on the 20 years he’s spent with the city, nine as the top appointed official.

He said the leaders that stay or come along after his Aug. 31 departure will want to remember to bring a parking lot to Sunset Ridge Park, to protect the environment and budget conservatively.

He said homelessness is “almost solvable” and Newport could offer jobs, like harbor cleanup, to help people get back on their feet.

He advised city observers to remember that infrastructure investments, such as the repairs funded by the most recent gas tax hike, benefit everybody.

Newport has the resources to keep its roads in good shape, but some nearby cities don’t, Kiff said.

He said to stay concerned about pension debt, “but only the city manager needs to lose sleep over that. The city has a good plan in place to pay down our pension debt faster than almost any other city.”

Kiff said he would miss the leadership of state Sen. John Moorlach (R-Costa Mesa) and outgoing Gov. Jerry Brown. He’ll miss working to solve the challenges that come with being a neighbor of John Wayne Airport, work that he said will only be successful if the city bands together and doesn’t make it a neighborhood-by-neighborhood issue.

There’s plenty he said he won’t miss, like campaign sign enforcement, bridge-jumpers, the fire rings on the beach, the unofficial and at-times contentious “dog beach” near the mouth of the Santa Ana River, coyotes and banner-towing airplanes.

And he had no love for the criticism posted on the social media platform NextDoor and eroding social graces in general.

“One of the reasons I’m not sad to leave is the civility is really suffering — and it’s nationwide,” Kiff said. “Someone just sent an email the other day blasting the City Council for something they had nothing to do with. And I just thought, there was a time when people would think before that and/or pick up the phone.”

He praised Marina and Sunset Ridge parks, the Civic Center Green and park, Oasis Senior Center, Buck Gully Reserve, the city-run animal shelter, the main library — all built or enhanced during his tenure.

He praised the Newport Beach Junior Lifeguards and the local Community Emergency Response Team.

His voice faltered when he thanked colleagues, and it broke when he projected a picture of the name plate outside his office, showing his city manager title.

“The No. 1 thing I’ll miss the most is just being this,” Kiff said, calling the role “the honor of my lifetime.”

After he leaves the city he plans to move to Sonoma County, not far from his family’s farm. In September, he plans to climb Mt. Whitney, the highest summit in the lower 48 states. He’ll spend time with family.

Former Mayor Rush Hill was on the City Council when it chose Kiff as city manager in 2009. He recalled giving the announcement to a standing-room-only audience that spilled into the lobby of the council chambers in the old City Hall.

The crowd responded that night with a standing ovation.

“Ed [Selich, former mayor] forgot that his mike was open and he turned to the councilperson next to him and said, ‘Boy, I’m glad we didn’t select the other guy.’”

Twitter: @Daily_PilotHD


3:30 p.m.: This article was updated to correct John Moorlach’s title. He is a state senator.