Council reduces public comment period

Saying the move would make meetings more efficient, the Newport Beach City Council decided Tuesday to shorten time limits for public comment.

While community members could previously speak for up to five minutes on agenda items and three minutes on non-agenda items, they will now be limited to three minutes in both cases.

"Most cities in Orange County, this is the specified time that people have," said Mayor Keith Curry. "If people are focused in their thoughts, they can express them within the three-minute period."

Council members generally agreed that the new three-minute limit was reasonable, but another aspect of the changes, which were proposed by Curry, split the group.

With council members Nancy Gardner, Tony Petros and Leslie Daigle dissenting, Tuesday's vote also eliminated the public's power to pull items from a meeting's consent calendar for further discussion.

Previously, council members and the public could pull specific items for further discussion. Now, only council members can.

Typically, items on the consent calendar are unlikely to generate much discussion. Instead of voting on each item individually, the council votes on consent calendar items in one shot. Often, most consent calendars include items like routine contract renewals or non-controversial annexations of technically unincorporated areas already within city limits.

But not always.

"We often have things on the consent calendar, they're actually pretty weighty," Gardner said. "I think the public should be able to pull items."

Case in point, said longtime council critic Jim Mosher, Tuesday's vote to change council policy. It had been listed on the consent calendar.

"By restricting our existing rules," he said, "you're restricting our access to you."


City Hall site reuse

The council also moved along with reuse plans for the old city hall site on Newport Boulevard.

An ad-hoc committee and city staff had winnowed a pool of 15 responses to an October request for qualifications from interested developers down to six.

Tuesday, the council voted unanimously (minus Petros and Councilman Mike Henn, who recused themselves) to issue requests for proposals to those six groups — three to develop boutique hotel concepts for the spot and three to develop ideas for residential developments.

The groups chosen for possible hotel proposals were Pacific Hospitality Group, RD Olson Development and Sonnenblick Development Co. For residential developments, the group had chosen AMLI Residential Partners, Archstone and the Shopoff Group, according to a staff report.

However Archstone withdrew its interest on Monday, so the group opted to issue the request to Olen Properties, said Community Development Director Kim Brandt.

Proposals are due March 29, and a council study session on the matter is tentatively scheduled for April 9.

"What we're really looking for here is a really unique Newport Beach design," Councilman Ed Selich told representatives of the selected firms. "Not some cookie cutter design from somewhere else that gets squished and squeezed to fit the site."

Twitter: @jillcowan

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