About six weeks into her job as Newport Beach’s city manager, Grace Leung is working to make headway with John Wayne Airport carriers as she oversees structural changes with the emergence of two new departments and generally finds her place in her new professional home.
At a community breakfast meeting Thursday presented by the Corona del Mar Chamber of Commerce, Leung said she knew from the get-go that airport relations would be one of her biggest issues.
About three weeks ago, accompanied by the city’s airport consultant and representatives of Newport’s three resident-led airport interest groups, she met with most of JWA’s commercial air carriers and found the airlines receptive to the longstanding local concerns about noise and pollution, she said.
Residents frequently tell her they’re interested in airport issues, homelessness and balancing development with local character.
Newport residents are “probably the most engaged that I’ve experienced,” said Leung, who before arriving in town in early September was assistant city manager in Irvine.
On the operations side, Newport Beach is peeling the harbor division out of the Public Works Department to stand as its own department and is returning to a standalone Utilities Department. Previously, utilities had been coupled with general services, which maintains beaches, streets, facilities, equipment, parks and trees. Those services will go under the public works umbrella, which broadly covers infrastructure and planning. The city announced the rearrangement in May and is refining the new structure and leadership.
Leung said she is looking forward to using technology in utilities with automated meter reading, a feature she knew in Sunnyvale in the Bay Area, where she worked for 18 years before her Irvine stint.
City administrators are interviewing candidates this month for Harbor Department director, or harbormaster, and should have someone in place by the end of the year, Leung said.
Leung said she’s aware of how well-liked and integrated her predecessor, Dave Kiff, was citywide. Kiff worked for Newport Beach for 20 years, and acrimony flared toward and within the City Council this year after Kiff announced he would depart a few months ahead of the previously planned end of his contract.
Kiff is now interim chief executive of the Assn. of California Cities-Orange County, a public policy group.
“I feel like I have big shoes to fill because Dave was a big part of the community for so long,” Leung said in an interview after the chamber appearance. “But I’ve found everybody open and supportive of me.”