Council meets in old chambers for last time

Florescent lights dimmed, aged seats groaned beneath shifting bodies. Amplified voices weighing in on outsourcing trash services bounced off 27-year-old walls.

Tuesday's meeting marked the last time the Newport Beach City Council would meet for a regularly scheduled council meeting in the old City Hall at 3300 Newport Blvd. on the Balboa Peninsula.

The council will later this month begin gathering five miles away in new chambers at 100 Civic Center Drive — a building envisioned as a sleek steel-and-stone structure hugged by a fabric sail. Though the new Civic Center is not yet complete, council meetings will start taking place there, and officials paused this week to say goodbye to their cramped meeting room.

"It was useful in its day, but its day was a long time ago," Councilman-elect Tony Petros said of city hall, adding that in the old days during meetings, people had to stand because "you were meeting virtually in a closet."

The council's first meeting in the new location will also be his first as a councilman.

The glass and wood building on Newport Boulevard served as a patchwork of history over the span of about three decades — a time when the population increased by 24,390. A fading aerial shot of the city hangs on one side of Council Chambers. A "No Smoking" sign acts as a reminder of 1985, when the city banned lighting up in chambers.

Mayor Nancy Gardner said that the new chambers — which she has only glimpsed — appear cavernous, compared with the more modest older building, but remain unfinished. She doesn't expect an official unveiling until spring or summer.

"It seems huge," she said. "What you're used to is what's normal, and looking at it looks like we'll all be so far apart from each other."

While some residents have griped about the $131-million price tag, others are excited about the Civic Center.

"Everybody worked hard, and thank you for our new city hall and our new beginning," Newport Coast resident Dan Wampole told the council.

He later said he felt the move to a more central location in Newport Beach would leave the city less vulnerable in the event of a natural disaster, and will better serve residents on a day-to-day basis.

An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported that the Civic Center is in Corona del Mar. It is in Newport Beach.

"City Hall has not been located in the best strategic area to serve the city in 30, 40 years," Wampole said. "We needed rejuvenation, even if we just leveled the whole thing."

The new steel-frame building, with its marble, limestone and metal exterior, is expected to seat 150 people, about 40 more than the capacity in the old chambers.

"I think it's a state-of-the-art building that's going to serve the citizens of Newport Beach very, very well," Petros said of the civic center. "It's a wonderful, wonderful central identity for the city."

Councilwoman Leslie Daigle said the new center would be more than a city hall, with more resources, including a park and an expanded library.

"It's a very significant change," she said, "and I'm excited about the new location and new building."

Along with the new structure comes new technologies, including paperless reports and agendas, built-in projectors and audio presentations, or as Gardner put it, "new whiz-bang things."

There may be a few kinks in the beginning, though.

"I can just see some of us fumbling around and turning all the lights off or something," Gardner joked.

The Council Chambers and City Hall will have a more fitting appearance than the old location, she said.

"We did our best to make do, but the trailers at times … that's a funny image for a place like Newport Beach."

As part of stationing the city's H.Q. near Fashion Island, Farallon Drive will be renamed to Civic Center Drive, its original name before 1972.

"It seems to be its destiny to be Civic Center Drive," Community Development Director Kim Brandt said.

Twitter: @lawilliams30

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