The eight candidates for Newport Beach City Council fixed their sights on the needs and concerns of West Newport on Wednesday during a forum at Marina Park.
“To me, the most important issues are public safety and economic vitality and to keep this community strong and keep people moving around on trolleys because people love them,” said Councilwoman Diane Dixon, whose District 1 includes West Newport and the Balboa Peninsula.
Dixon said she’d like to reexamine building a westside community center, something the city put on the back burner in recent years as it grappled with more-pressing budget demands. She said cost and location would again be major issues.
Mike Glenn, Dixon’s challenger in the November election, said: “I think it’d be great if we had one. Unfortunately, we simply can’t afford it. … We are so far up to the eyeballs in debt.”
Mayor Marshall “Duffy” Duffield, who is running for a second term representing District 3, said he supports a community center as a public-private venture and is fond of the Oasis Senior Center in Corona del Mar on the city’s east side.
Duffield’s challenger, Tim Stoaks, noted that he helped raise funds for Oasis, itself a public-private project, and is doing the same for the Newport Beach Animal Shelter.
District 4 incumbent Kevin Muldoon was more cautious about spending money on a community center because of the city’s debts, including employee pensions and Civic Center costs.
But District 6 candidate Joy Brenner said the city is financially solid and will pay down its debts.
A community center is a good investment for local taxpayers, she said.
“We are a world-class city and we should stay a world-class city by having the facilities that show that [with] our libraries, our community centers,” she said.
Most candidates agreed that traffic is a key issue for the area.
Brenner, who is running against incumbent Scott Peotter, said traffic goes hand in hand with overdevelopment, another critical concern.
Roy Englebrecht, who is challenging Muldoon, said West Newport needs an attraction.
“Why couldn’t we have a Fashion Island feel to the peninsula?” asked Englebrecht, a boxing and mixed martial arts promoter. “It’s kind of forgotten.”
The Newport Pier draws visitors who stroll its 1,000-foot length to take in the ocean views or drop fishing lines off its sides, but the pier is aging and the weathered former restaurant at the end of it has been shuttered for six years.
Peotter said he would love to see the pier get a face lift.
“It’s an irreplaceable piece of property that we have out there, and to not be able to take advantage of it with a restaurant or some shopping or something out there just seems very disappointing,” he said. “The downside is that developers are not out there lining up saying [they’re] going to throw millions of dollars at improvements” because of the seasonal nature of tourism-oriented businesses.
Though Glenn was again skeptical of the costs, Stoaks said locals want the reinvestment. He said Huntington Beach’s pier is a good example of a thriving municipal pier.
Peotter said Bluewater Grill is continuing talks with the city about a restaurant at the end of the pier, but the agreement is tentative and the next moves depend on the restaurateurs.
Duffield said that if any restaurant can succeed at the end of the pier it would be Bluewater, a Newport-grown, eight-location regional chain that has been in business since 1996. Its flagship location is in Newport’s waterfront Cannery Village, not far from the pier.
Englebrecht said a restaurant doesn’t make sense and proposed going bigger, with a “Santa Monica-type pier” with the help of an investment group.
He acknowledged the city would have to address the traffic impact but said a strong amusement development would enhance Newport.
The panel tensed up during a segment in which candidates asked questions of one another.
Stoaks asked Duffield, founder of Duffy Electric Boat Co., if he has ever employed Peotter while they have served on the council. The question reflected recent speculation in the community that Duffield has employed Peotter and that Peotter should have recused himself, as Duffield does, from discussions or votes on harbor matters in which he could have a conflict of interest.
Duffield did not answer, saying he generally “doesn’t subscribe” to that style of questioning because he doesn’t think it’s fair for candidates to put one another on the spot.
“I’m sorry … I just don’t think it’s the kind of question that I came to this forum to answer,” he said.
City Attorney Aaron Harp has described the talk of Duffield employing Peotter as rumor.
Peotter said after the forum that he doesn’t respond to rumors.
Newport Beach council candidates will have back-to-back forums next week.
The Corona del Mar Chamber of Commerce will present one from 7:30 to 9 a.m. Sept. 6 at Bahia Corinthian Yacht Club, 1601 Bayside Drive.
The Friends of Oasis will hold a forum at 10:30 a.m. Sept. 7 at the Oasis Senior Center, 801 Narcissus Ave.
3:45 p.m.: This article was updated with information about upcoming forums.
This article was originally published at 3:05 p.m.