Newport council to look at seawall improvements

In an effort to guard against rising sea levels, the Newport Beach City Council is set to award a $1.3-million contract Tuesday that would start the design of new seawalls around Balboa and Little Balboa islands.

Replacing the aging concrete barriers is increasingly necessary, city leaders say, as high tides and storm surges already lap over the walls and threaten the low-lying homes.

A 2011 study found that waters around Balboa Island could rise as much as four feet by the end of the century, as the sea warms and expands due to climate change.

While the total cost to replace the islands' seawalls is expected to be almost $68 million, this is the first significant step.

The contractor, URS Corp. of Long Beach, would prepare concept drawings, environmental documents, permit applications and construction documents.

Last year's city-commissioned study recommended that the islands raise their seawalls from 9 feet to 10 feet above the average sea level, and be designed to accommodate a 4-foot extension if tide levels continue to rise as projected.

Balboa Island is 4 to 8 feet above sea level.

To guard the homes and businesses, the city plans to also modify the boardwalk, street ends and drainage structures.


Fire Management Assn. contract

The Newport Beach Fire Department brass have agreed to a new union contract that includes a 401(k)-style retirement benefit more commonly seen in the corporate world.

The council is likely to approve the two-and-a-half year contract Tuesday.

Newport Beach is looking to control its pension costs and lower its unfunded liability, which is about $260 million under today's market conditions — unusually high for a city of its size.

Some council members have said they would ideally convert unions to so-called "defined-contribution" retirement plans, which are common in the corporate world, as opposed to pensions, which offer a defined benefit.

Although the Fire Management Assn. has only five members and a small fiscal impact, the new formulas are significant.

The city will offer newly hired fire managers a hybrid plan with a matching retirement incentive, similar to a 401(k). It is designed to compensate for a reduction in guaranteed pensions. The city would match any contribution up to 1.5% of salary.

For guaranteed pensions, future fire managers will be able to retire at 50 with up to 60% of their salary, while currently employed managers can retire at 50 with up to 90% of their salary, depending on how long they worked for the city.

Current fire managers would contribute more toward their pensions, in exchange for a small raise and better health benefits, similar to changes adopted by police officers.

The union members will get a 0.5% raise, in addition to cost-of-living increases, and will receive about $200 more per month in medical insurance benefits.

A city report estimates the contract would save about $15,000 over the 30-month term.

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