Gardner takes less-is-more approach

When Newport Beach Mayor Nancy Gardner delivered a two-word state-of-the-city address to the Corona del Mar Chamber of Commerce last month ("it's fine"), people thought she was mostly joking.

Turns out she wasn't.

Gardner slightly elaborated on that theme Friday night at the annual mayor's dinner, hosted by the advocacy group Speak Up Newport. She said the City Council and its administrators have reshaped the government the past two years, and now it is time to take a breath, to see how the major changes work out. Beyond that, she proposed revamping the city's TV station, better chronicling the area's history and identified some long-term goals.

"My big idea this year…is there is no big idea," Gardner told a sell-out crowd at the Marriott hotel in Newport Center.

She pointed to the merging of the Planning and Building Departments in 2010, the thorough fiscal planning under Keith Curry when he was mayor in 2010; and neighborhood revitalization projects last year spearheaded by then-Mayor Mike Henn.

"We have done a pretty big reorganization of the city," said Gardner, whose mayoral term lasts a year. "That's a lot, and I think maybe one more major undertaking might just be one too many."

The crowd, mostly made up of politicians, city staffers and community leaders, cheered her brevity and, well, lack of stated ambition.

Bernie Svalstad, chairman of the Corona del Mar Business Improvement District, agreed on Saturday that the city already has undertaken enough projects. He liked the council's moves to privatize more city services, and its revitalization efforts. Others mentioned the under-construction Civic Center and various parks and community centers planned for West Newport.

"They've got a full plate right now," Svalstad said.

Still, the mayor offered some issues that she said should be readily solvable.

She said the 106-year-old city should improve its historical record-keeping and called for the Newport Beach Historical Society to collaborate with the Balboa Island Museum and Historical Society.

Gardner's father wrote two books about Newport's colorful characters in the early 20th century: "Bawdy Balboa" and "Naughty Newport," which was recently released on Amazon.

"I think we can do better," she said, suggesting the city launch an oral history project.

A former marketing executive, Gardner also said she wants to reformat Newport Beach Television, the government access cable TV station. She proposed a show that would feature one of the city's most popular restaurants each week, going behind the scenes to view chefs at work.

"We could really reinvigorate NBTV, and we could do it this year," she said.

Gardner did identify some ambitious projects, but said the city needed to merely "plan to plan" this year.

For instance, many of Newport's 38,000 publicly maintained trees have reached the end of their lifespan or have grown too large for their area. Gardner proposed that the city develop a plan to methodically replace the trees, instead of cutting them down reactively, as officials did last year when a eucalyptus fell and killed a woman.

"We don't want a city full of twigs and saplings," she said.

Little Corona Beach is another problem that clearly stokes Gardner's passions, but she said Friday that its issues were too complex to fix in a year.

Water flowing down from Newport Coast — excess irrigation and other urban runoff — empties out of Buck Gulley at the beach and has eroded much of the sand. Gardner showed photos of Little Corona in the mid-20th century, when a wide beach gave room for many beachgoers.

"We want to be able to restore and rehabilitate all those areas of our environment," she said, "that have been so impacted by the huge growth this area has experienced over the past few decades."

Councilman Steve Rosansky liked the scale and timing of her proposals.

"I think she's right," he said Saturday. "The city is working on grand visions right now and we need to focus our efforts."

Also at the dinner, Speak Up Newport gave its Sunshine Award to longtime resident Bill Ficker. Ficker, an America's Cup sailor, was one of the strongest proponents of building the new City Hall in Newport Center. The award is given each year to a dedicated community leader.

Twitter: @mreicher

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