Newport to end the year with a surplus

The current fiscal year should end with a surplus, the Newport Beach City Council learned Tuesday.

City staff is projecting a $4.4-million surplus in the current year's budget. For next year, plans are to eliminate eight positions, all but one of them vacant, to bring total full-time staff down to 755 positions.

That's down from 833 people two years ago, when total pension costs were under $20 million.

That reduction in staff means that total pension costs should stay at roughly $25 million next year, before bumping up another $5 million in 2014.

That increase will bring total pension costs up to nearly $30 million, although employees will cover much of that year's increase if officials get their way.

City Hall workers have already agreed to pay 8% of their salary toward pension costs, and lifeguards have agreed to pay 9%.

City Manager Dave Kiff is pushing for public safety workers to pay 9%, although they're currently paying 3.5%.

In response to a question from Councilwoman Leslie Daigle about the effects of unfunded liability, Finance Director Tracy McCraner said that cost increases would be borne by the city, as the employees will be paying a flat 8% or 9% of their salary.

Daigle said later that she thinks that employees could be made to pay more — up to half of the costs — through the collective bargaining process.


Corona del Mar lot merger

Most of the regular council meeting was taken up by discussion of whether to allow a merger of two lots in Corona del Mar.

A decision was postponed for six weeks after several members came to believe that the issue could be solved through negotiation.

The issue is whether to allow the Guida family to merge two lots at 2808 and 2812 Ocean Blvd. for the purpose of building a large house.

The proposed 5,665-square-foot house falls within building code restrictions for the neighborhood, according to staff.

The dispute is whether the Guidas are honoring a 60-year-old covenant binding five neighboring lots to single-story buildings.

The Guidas are proposing a single story that's taller than current structures. It has a 15-foot roof, and a wide chimney that stretches up to 22 or 23 feet, nearly the height of a neighboring two-story building.

Neighbors are angry that it would encroach on their ocean views, although they offered other, legal reasons to block the project.

"Hopefully, somebody doesn't have to have a heart attack and die for us to know it does affect the health and safety of the neighbors," said neighbor Cliff Jones, who has a 29-foot roof.

Marsden Blanch said he could have chosen to live anywhere.

"When we bought our home, we were overwhelmed by the view from the upper decks," he said. "We were assured the view would never be taken from us thanks to the covenant."

The height of the roof could be lowered by three feet, if the Guidas graded an easement at the back of the property, but they'd need their neighbors' approval for that.

Several council members said they thought that the deal to be negotiated was obvious and chided the parties.

"I was right on the edge of voting for the proposal Mr. Guida brought in here," Councilman Mike Henn said. "If this comes back to us with the change in height [through grading] – I'm going to vote for that."

The issue will come back to the council June 26.

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