Newport council OKs Hart name for event center

NEWPORT BEACH — In most cases, honoring a civic icon would be a warm and fuzzy affair.

But when the council voted on Tuesday to name an event center after Evelyn Hart, it was done under a cloud of discontent.

A former mayor who spearheaded the effort to raise funds for the OASIS Senior Center, Hart unwittingly became stuck in the middle of a debate about how to honor her efforts: Should the entire senior center be named after her, or just a building within the center?

For the past few weeks a controversy had grown over the designation; some maintained her contributions were not singular and that many others helped conceive and build OASIS.

"There's no question of Evelyn's contribution, and the contribution of many other people who worked hard to make this happen," said Councilman Mike Henn before voting to name only the event center after her.

The council voted unanimously, although council members Ed Selich, Nancy Gardner and Leslie Daigle said they would have chosen to name the entire OASIS center after Hart, if they had been given that option.

Hart's friends and acquaintances came to the meeting to lobby for the broader designation and to lament the entire process and how it placed undue stress on her. They said she deserved the recognition for her impact on the city, including her activist work against the environmental impacts of John Wayne Airport.

"It's about her body of work for the entire city," said Marilyn Brewer, a Newport resident and former assemblywoman who donated to the OASIS fundraising campaign.

Hart raised $4.4 million as chairwoman of the senior center building campaign and contributed consistently to the center over the years, including serving as Friends of OASIS president.

A city policy forbids naming such public buildings after individuals, and some officials cited that in their opposition to the broader designation.

Some council members and speakers admonished the news media for inflaming peoples' emotions on the issue. A few local columnists had argued in favor of naming OASIS for Hart.

"Everybody, no matter what side they stand on the issue, has agreed that we want to salute Evelyn Hart for all that she has done for the city," said Gardner, who represents the district that includes OASIS.

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