NEWPORT BEACH — The City Council voted Tuesday night to erect a Ronald Reagan statue in one of the city's parks instead of the future Civic Center.
Departing from city policy governing public art, the council members voted 5 to 2 to have the city manager, with guidance from various groups, choose the sculptor and its location within Castaways Park, near West Coast Highway and Dover Drive.
The decision marked the culmination of a months-long public debate about how, or if, the city should honor the former Republican president's centennial birthday.
"It's how we remember and transmit our history to future generations," said Councilman Keith Curry, who served in Reagan's California gubernatorial administration and first introduced the idea of a memorial. "Our children are losing our touchstones to our past."
Added Mayor Mike Henn, who donated to the memorial and voted in favor: "I see it as a modification of the process, as imperfect as it may be."
Up to this point, the city's role was to accept tax-deductible private contributions for the statue, based on a City Council vote in January. A group of private donors raised more than $50,000 and Curry thought they should decide who the sculptor should be.
But council policies governing the creation of public art, or private donations of public art, both say that the city's Arts Commission should make the main decisions. The commissioners would typically recommend an artist and a location for the work.
"This is public art, and we are putting it in a public place," said Councilman Steve Rosansky, who voted against the proposal along with Councilwoman Nancy Gardner. "We have a right way to do things, and a wrong way. I firmly believe this is a wrong way."
Three groups will recommend to the city manager the sculptor and statue's placement: the committee of private donors; the Arts Commission; and the Parks, Beaches and Recreation Commission.
Some who attended Tuesday's meeting said Reagan didn't represent their views and that the city shouldn't trample on them, while others said they supported Reagan and would like a prominent statue of him in the city.
Some were Republicans who liked Reagan, yet still didn't like the idea of a partisan statue on public grounds. Others criticized the City Council's handling of the situation.
"I think it's a really sad day," said Novell Hendrickson, a former chairwoman of the Arts Commission. She protested the council's decision to depart with its own policy.
Still, the Tuesday night meeting was tame, some said, compared to last week's Arts Commission meeting, when members of the crowd jeered Curry.