Development, connections focus of debate

NEWPORT BEACH — Two familiar storylines continued at a Newport Beach City Council candidates forum Tuesday night: the outsider vs. the insider, and pro-growth vs. slow-growth.

In the third of six public forums before the November election, council candidates more clearly defined their differences. A mixed-age crowd of about 100 people listened at the American Legion Post on the Balboa Peninsula.

District 3 candidate Ed Reno said he would question the ballooning cost of the Civic Center construction and other bloated city finances, while his opponent Rush Hill touted his long-time service to the city.

Leslie Daigle, an incumbent in District 4, said developers must revive Mariner's Mile and other parts of the city, while her challenger Mark Tabbert said the city was too pro-development and that he would put "the environment and residents first, building and development second."

Daigle countered: "I am more concerned with economic cooling than global warming."

The rough economic climate has been one reason critics have opposed the extensive Civic Center project. Seeing their challenges as an attack on the City Council's management, the two other incumbents running unopposed defended the city's financial decisions.

Councilwoman Nancy Gardner explained how the Civic Center project grew to include a dog park, an expanded library and a disaster preparedness center, among other features.

"This started as a City Hall, and over the course of about 30 meetings which the public was involved," she said. "We began to change it because that is what the public expected. We can do these things."

Reno hammered on the project, pointing out aspects that ballooned in cost. He sought to tie Hill to the Civic Center and other city spending that he characterized as unnecessary.

"As great a contribution my opponent has made, he's part of the status quo," Reno said. "He's an insider."

Hill served on the citizens' design oversight committee for the Civic Center, and made recommendations to the City Council on the project. He cited his architectural background as an asset when the city redevelops Mariner's Mile and Lido Marina Village.

Tabbert said he would be a check on unrestrained development, being "another voice on the council and not so many unanimous votes."

In some circles, Hill is called the "eighth City Councilman" because of his extensive involvement in civic affairs. He was Citizen of the Year in 1997 and has served on countless committees and boards before and since then. Most recently, he was on the city's Charter Review Commission.

The chairwoman of that commission, former state legislator Marian Bergeson, supports Hill and attended the forum. Hill dropped her name and many others active in local politics and government. He said 10 former mayors have endorsed him.

Implying that Reno, a lobbyist, would want to move on to state or federal government, Hill drew strong applause when he said, "This to me is the highest office one can have."

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