He's walking the walk

The name "Walking" Don Webb is familiar to many in Newport Beach, especially to those at home during the late-morning hours who have witnessed the straw-capped figure coasting by their property.

What many people are not familiar with, however, is that the 71-year-old Georgia native and Newport city councilman is on his fifth circuit walking every street in Newport Beach — an estimated 500 miles.

"I was a little lazy in the past," Webb said of his citywide explorations, which began in 1990.

The walks usually take Webb up to two and a half years to complete, he explained.

"For 2010, I wanted to logically organize the walk with my last year on City Council," he said.

Webb announced in December 2009 that he would walk every street in the city before the end of his eighth year on the City Council at the end of this year.

Although not many people are around to talk to in the late morning hours — and Webb wishes there were more — one rare pedestrian did stop Webb on Tuesday to ask the big question on most people's minds when they hear of "Walking" Don.

"Why? To walk every street in the city," Webb said simply and with obvious delight.

The former Newport mayor walks an average of three miles a day, five days a week, he said.

With a color-coded map in his hand, a camera and a pedometer, Webb set out along Santa Ana Avenue in Newport Beach this week; he is already well ahead of his one-year deadline.

By the end of June, Webb said, he will have completed more than 400 miles in his journey, which he believes may finish at around 550 miles. That estimated total includes backtracking in certain neighborhoods.

Although he's had trouble walking into gated communities about town, he applauded their security measures.

Webb worked as a civil and city engineer in the city Public Works Department for more than 33 years, eventually becoming the department's director in 1994.

Webb walks to check in with past projects he's had a hand in, such as the Arches Interchange Project —which can be seen from the top of the hill on Santa Ana Avenue — and the city's 35-mile bike trail system, or to report any damaged or potentially dangerous street conditions.

"It's a little easier for me because I generally know who to call after having worked in Public Works for so long," Webb said. "Of course, sometimes I just call the general services number."

Even without having explored nearly every park, cul-de-sac, and sparsely visited nook in the city, not many can claim to share Webb's extensive knowledge and history of Newport streets.

He has seen the turnover of old churches being trasnformed into apartments, once quiet streets becoming busy roadways and the Newport skyline change with the construction of towering Hoag Memorial Hospital Presbyterian, where his sons, Don III and Cameron, were both born.

"Some of the Newport Beach, it's like going into the past," Webb said, indicating two homes along Cliff Drive with decades separating them in design and architecture.

"Many problems are recurring problems," he said. "I have had the opportunity to see how past solutions have or have not worked, and I think that many people realize that a kind of understanding of history is beneficial when looking at current issues."

Every so often features of local architecture like a weather vane or a statue catch his eye. In turn, he captures them through the lens of his digital camera.

The photos are part of Webb's personal encyclopedia of Newport's wonders and oddities; representative of an architectural landscape shifting away from the cottage homes of the 1950s to what can be best described as "mansionization," he said.

While he has toyed with the idea of compiling the photos into a book, he said that he doubts that he'll ever publish them.

The photos are simply his way of cataloging the knowledge he gains from his walks, he said, and a way to share some of the more interesting sights with his wife, Jan, a former teacher with the Newport-Mesa Unified School District.

While his wife had joined him on his debut 1990 tour of the city as part of a joint New Year's resolution, Webb now does most of his walking alone.

The daily exercise has given him more joint mobility in his knees, he said, adding that he would like to get even more exercise for additional health benefits.

"If you don't walk or get some kind of exercise," Webb said while keeping a steady pace, "you will vegetate — you're body will deteriorate away."

Webb's journey is slowly taking carrying him westward, from the bluffs of Dover Shores, across the "flatlands" of his neighborhood in the westerly bay area, to finally finish at the city limits along Coast Highway.

Webb had trouble pinning down what areas in Newport Beach he viewed as most beautiful; so many areas have their own unique and special qualities, he said, whether it's a view from atop a seaside bluff or one of the many parks tucked into quiet corners of residential neighborhoods.

"I've learned what a wonderful place Newport is to live in," Webb said. "The variety and diversity across the city is unlike anywhere else."

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