Lobdell: Here's what's pulling my heartstrings

It's the day after Valentine's Day, and I'm still full of red-hot passion. Here's where my heart lies:

I'm in love with the proposed submarine base in Newport Harbor. It has a very James Bond vibe to it. Newport Beach yachtsman Chris Welsh (I wonder if he lives in a lair) wants to put a deep-sea sub on a 125-foot catamaran moored in the bay.

Walsh plans to pilot the sub to the deepest reaches of the world's five oceans — an inverse version of summiting the highest mountain on each of the Earth's seven continents. I'm guessing he's not claustrophobic.

If Welsh needs a co-pilot to take his submarine on a test spin across the Catalina Channel, I'll be the first to volunteer. Also, I hope he has a filmmaker documenting his historic quest. It would be worth watching.

I'm in love with the Newport Beach kids training at night in the Corona del Mar High School pool to qualify for the junior lifeguard training program. I swim there regularly at night, and kids come with their parents each February with the regularity of the swallows to San Juan Capistrano.

Each boy or girl has distinct personalities that are revealed once hitting the water. Some start with a flurry, only to find themselves clinging breathless to the lane line halfway across the pool. Others swim cautiously, knowing that four laps can be a great distance to navigate at one time.

The parents may be more fun to watch. They clock their kids' 100-yard efforts, hoping that the youngsters can swim under the qualifying times (which start at 1:55 for 9-year-olds and get progressively faster for older groups). In the process, they will encourage, yell, pace the pool deck and even bribe their kids with promised treats in order to get their times lowered.

The process looks to be tougher on Mom and Dad than their offspring.

I'm in love with Lucille Kuehn and her spirit. Though Lucille's body has started to betray her in its ninth decade, the Newport Coast resident hasn't let rheumatoid arthritis stop her longtime civic activism.

The former Newport Beach councilwoman and library trustee (she was the person most responsible for building the city's beautiful Central Library) keeps up with local affairs, still has a razor-sharp mind and gets involved whenever she believes it's necessary.

I smiled last week when I saw that she was among the Ronald Reagan statue protesters at the Arts Commission meeting. She travels mostly by wheelchair these days, but she found a way to get there.

She's fiercely protective of her Newport Beach and defends the town — when provoked — like a mama grizzly. With people like Lucille against the Reagan statue, I don't see a bigger-than-life, bronze version of the Gipper ever landing on city property.

I love the $10 tickets available for performances at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts. Amid the hoopla over the recent Orange County Performing Arts Center name change to the Segerstrom moniker, the news got lost that more than 10,000 tickets for the 2011-2012 season will be available for just $10.

That's less than a movie. I don't think there's a better bargain in town.

I love the success of the Costa Mesa Courtyards shopping center amid the recession. New management has turned Costa Mesa Courtyards into a monster of a smallish retail center by livening up its façade, reconfiguring the parking lot and attracting new tenants, including its latest catch — a Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market — which has become an instant hit.

The only problem: The Courtyards has attracted so many customers that parking has become a major headache during peak hours. For instance, many 24 Hour Fitness members are being forced to park in the lot of the nearby Costa Mesa Community Center because of the crowded conditions. I'm not sure how to correct the problem, but these days, it's a nice challenge to face.

And if I owned the struggling Triangle Square across the street, I'd hire the Courtyards' property manager, Vestar, to re-energize the place.

I love that Newport Beach still has a trio of Dory fishermen hauling in their catch at the Newport Pier, as it's been done for 120 years. However, the fleet just lost 25% of its crew when Frank Leal, the son of a Portuguese fisherman, died of lung cancer earlier this month.

I hope the three remaining fishermen or the city of Newport Beach find a way to get some new recruits. This is one of California's loveliest — most romantic — traditions, and a major piece of Newport history. It shouldn't die.

I love that there's a task force being formed to try and solve the homeless problem in Lions Park. That said, I don't know if there's much of a solution.

As Jesus said, the poor will always be among us. And the homeless will go where there are food and services.

Lions Park is near Share Our Selves and the Someone Cares Soup Kitchen, two of Orange County's leading nonprofits devoted to helping the poor. Plus, the park itself has become a place where churches come to extend a hand to the less fortunate.

Maybe the best that can be done is for the churches and poverty relief groups to chip in and hire a full-time security guard who can keep a lid on some of the more disturbing behavior.

I love the robust public discussion about the proposed Ronald Reagan statue in Newport Beach. Though the City Council tried to sneak it by last month with a non-discussion vote on the consent calendar, the public got its chance for the first time to talk at last week's Arts Commission public hearing about the idea of a privately funded President Reagan statue at the new Civic Center or in a city park.

Though I didn't appreciate the rudeness of some of the protesters, the public airing revealed several facts.

First, the City Council didn't follow its own rules when it bypassed the Arts Commission, which is supposed to put out a call to artists interested in sculpting the Reagan piece and to recommend a place for the statue.

Second, it turns out that many respected local artists don't think much of the talents — or professional reputation — of the sculptor selected by Councilman Keith Curry. If the city goes ahead and commissions the piece, I don't see Stan Watt — the Utah sculptor tapped by Curry — getting the $50,000 job.

Finally, I think the debate will reach a tipping point when the City Council next discusses (perhaps at its Feb. 22 meeting) the proposed Reagan statue, with council members deciding the whole idea is too divisive for the city.

A perfect compromise: Put a privately funded Reagan statue on a popular piece of private property such as the Balboa Bay Club, the Newport Harbor Yacht Club or the Pavilion.

WILLIAM LOBDELL — a former editor of the Daily Pilot and Los Angeles Times journalist — is a Costa Mesa resident who runs a boutique public relations firm. His column runs Tuesday and Friday. His e-mail is bill@cat5communications.com.

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