Newport Beach charter gets update

NEWPORT BEACH — Bringing the city into modern times and to the forefront of environmentalism, the Newport Beach City Council on Tuesday night approved a list of proposed city charter reforms.

Council members proposed prohibiting offshore oil drilling, restricting the city's ability to tax residents, among other changes. Residents will vote on the changes to the charter in the November election.

It is the first overhaul of the charter since the city's framework was adopted in 1958; many of the proposals would bring it in compliance with current municipal law and today's social norms. City officials would generally be able to operate with less red tape.

"We're making our city government more efficient," Mayor Keith Curry said at Tuesday's council meeting.

One of the largest revisions was to the section on the "civil service system," which regulates how the city deals with municipal employees. Charter amendments would give members of a civil service board the final say on disciplinary actions and other employment issues.

"While we're protecting the rights of the employees, we've done a lot of streamlining here," said Councilman Michael Henn.

Perhaps more symbolic than operational, one of the proposals would ban offshore oil drilling. Offshore drilling falls under powerful federal and state regulations as well. Part of the oil section changes would consolidate the area for oil wells within the city limits at Banning Ranch from 466 acres to approximately 20 acres, allowing room for either a proposed mixed-use development or open space.

Another change would eliminate the need for a charter amendment if the city were to sell waterfront property. Instead, such a sale would only require a citywide vote.

To arrive at these amendments, the City Council appointed seven residents to the Charter Update Commission. Former state legislator Marian Bergeson led the group, which began work in March and finished its recommendations over the weekend.

In a last-minute addition, the council eliminated a tax provision that conflicted with Proposition 13, the 1978 California initiative that restricted property tax levies. Curry said that the existing charter could have given the council the ability to raise millions from property owners.

"We are making it very clear that if we're going to have a tax increase, the voters are going to have to vote for it," he said.

Some of the other changes were more cosmetic, so to speak. The language would be modified to be gender-neutral, instead of only using "his" or "him."

"We haven't done a charter amendment in 50 years," City Clerk Leilani Brown said. "This was very needed."

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