NEWPORT BEACH — Back then, there was no Newport Coast, no Eastbluff, and Fashion Island had just opened.
In 1968, when Don Webb joined the city's public works staff, Newport Beach was booming.
Forty-two years later, now as a city councilman, Newport is mostly built out and Webb is getting ready to hang one of his many hats. On Tuesday, Webb will attend his last City Council meeting in an official role and will swear in Rush Hill to fill his seat representing District 3.
"Don is like an institution of Newport Beach," Mayor Keith Curry said. "He has an almost encyclopedic knowledge of the city, its physical characteristics, and why things were built a certain way."
Looking back, Webb sees the city as the civil engineer he is — he takes in the built world and reflects on his role in major projects.
Webb said he wielded his largest hand on road projects. He was the project engineer when the city widened Coast Highway, Jamboree Road, Newport Boulevard, MacArthur Boulevard and other streets in its arterial system.
"It does a good job handling traffic," he said.
On the council, Webb helped build the Donna & John Crean Mariners Branch Library, testifying in Sacramento to help secure a grant. Webb, who lives across the street from Mariner's Park, also led the committee that designed the building and dedicated it in 2006, when he was mayor.
Having an engineer on the council helped with infrastructure projects, said Public Works Director Steve Badum.
"It helped a lot because we had someone on the council who understood, who spoke our language," Badum said.
Architect Rush Hill, the new District 3 councilman to be sworn in Tuesday, also sees the value in Webb's public works experience.
"I hope my training as an architect gives me the vision to build on the solid foundation he has provided us as an engineer," Hill wrote in an e-mail. "I suspect for the first year or so I will be making frequent calls to him to find out how both the city's pipes and administration run."
After starting as an associate engineer, Webb worked his way up through the Public Works Department to become its director in 1994. He retired in 2001, and then ran for council the following year.
Webb said that the development on the east side of the bay, including Newport Center and Harbor View Homes, was better planned than the older westerly side. The parks, shopping centers and well-located offices make the east side more livable, he said.
"A lot of people give me a hard time when I say this, but I believe it's because the Irvine Co. master-planned it," Webb said.
Webb has seen many changes in city management since he retired 10 years ago. The only upper-level manager still with the city, he said, is City Manager Dave Kiff.
More so than his leadership style, Webb is perhaps best known for his walking and unusual attire.
He has walked every street in the city five times — about 500 miles each time.
Often, he'll don a straw hat on his walks. He has more than a 100 hats for almost any occasion. He's also known to wear white linen suits during the summer and red corduroy slacks at Christmastime.
"It's fun," Webb said. "It puts a smile on people's faces, and when you do that, it's a good experience."
Badum said Webb's clothing exemplifies who he is: "He sees things how he sees them and he does things his way."
Webb started wearing a tie when he first joined the council, he said, but then, "I finally decided, who am I really trying to impress?"
At 71, Webb plans to work on his family genealogy and travel with his wife, Jan. They plan to have a sailing cruise from Barbados through the Panama Canal early next year.
Born in Georgia and raised in Tucson, Ariz., Webb studied engineering at the University of Arizona and moved to Newport in 1965 after spending two years in the Army.
With so much knowledge and so many connections to people in government, he might not be able to relinquish his hand in city affairs.
"I fully intend to hold onto his phone number in case I want a lesson in history," Councilman Steve Rosansky said.
If You Go
What: Newport Beach Councilman Don Webb's last City Council meeting as an official
Where: City Council Chambers, 3300 Newport Blvd.
When: 5 p.m. today