Hill may rejoin economic group

Editor's note: This corrects what happened regarding the Cannery in the 1990s. According to the city’s Planning Department, the city issued a citation to the Cannery, which had allowed dancing without a permit. The restaurant then applied for a dancing permit, but the City Council denied the Cannery the permit.

NEWPORT BEACH — If the City Council confirms Mayor Mike Henn's committee appointments Tuesday, business owners will likely rejoice and residents may want to pay close attention.

First-term Councilman Rush Hill has been nominated to be the chairman of the Economic Development Committee. It's a position he held in the 1990s, a tenuous time between residents and neighboring businesses.

Hill may guide the city's policies toward builders, restaurateurs and other business people who need to perform well, yet peacefully coexist with neighbors.

These rules will become especially important when developers plan waterfront mixed-use buildings on Mariner's Mile and Lido Marina Village, and city administrators are called to regulate them.

"He knows exactly what the process is and what it should be," said Richard Luehrs, president and chief executive officer of the Newport Beach Chamber of Commerce.

Luehrs said that city building officials can sometimes be overly strict when interpreting state laws.

Representatives from chain companies looking to expand in Newport, he said, often complain to him that Newport demands more than others.

Hill, if confirmed, would review all city policies toward businesses and would look for ways to improve processes and rules, he said in a phone interview.

He wants to "remove regulation for the sense of regulation," he said. "I don't believe government exists to regulate beyond what is necessary to protect the welfare of the public."

His past experience on the committee shows that Hill, a business owner, predictably leans toward fewer limits.

When residential neighbors complained about rowdy patrons of bars and restaurants, the city in the late 1990s constrained some businesses. It denied the dancing permit at the Cannery restaurant after the Cannery was cited for having dancing without a permit and restricted hours at Windows on the Bay, a Coast Highway restaurant, and imposed rules on other businesses.

According to news reports from the time, Hill resigned from the committee in 1998 because he thought the city was being too restrictive.

"Those business owners were forced to operate with one arm tied behind their back," he told a Daily Pilot reporter at the time.

Hill founded the committee in 1993, amid a serious recession, and led efforts to revive business in Balboa Village and other parts of the city.

His architectural firm, Hill Partnership, is housed in a mixed-use building near the Newport Pier. In recent years, Hill had to fight the City Council to expand operating hours. He lost that fight.

But not all businesses have trouble with the city. Peter Sabatino, owner of Sabatino's Lido Shipyard Sausage Co., said that his dealings with the city have been smooth while expanding to a new location. Sabatino is opening up a take-out restaurant next to City Hall.

His only difficulty with the city, he said, was dealing with the various departments — like planning, building and public works.

"You have to have a multitude of people in charge," he said, and each one has to approve plans.

That may change, as Newport considers consolidating the planning and building departments into a community development department, a "one-stop shop" arrangement found in other cities.

In the meantime, acting Planning Director Jim Campbell is looking forward to examining processes and finding ways to better serve the community.

"Sometimes a fresh perspective helps," he said.

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