Newport on the right path, Kiff says

Keep Newport Beach looking good, City Manager Dave Kiff said Thursday morning, and the high quality of life residents have come to expect will follow.

Maintaining "that feeling you get when you drive into town," he said, keeps "property values up and crime low."

Kiff, who addressed a couple dozen slightly bleary-eyed Newport Beach Chamber of Commerce members gathered in the Central Library's Friends Room at about 7:45 a.m., said that to do that, the city must continue to carefully evaluate its priorities to invest in community amenities — and cut other costs accordingly.

The breakfast was the first of the chamber's revamped Government Affairs Committee meetings, interim chamber President and Chief Executive Steve Rosansky wrote in an e-mail newsletter. The monthly meetings have always been open to all members, but they haven't been well-attended.

By holding the meetings in the Friends Room and more actively promoting speakers, he wrote, the chamber hopes to draw more business owners.

Kiff discussed a range of issues, from the city's impending move to its new headquarters next to the library to new parks to the hotly debated dock fee increases, along with the harbor infrastructure improvements he said those increases will help fund.

"It wasn't a pleasant process. It wasn't the best process. I think we could all have done things differently," he said.

However, it's become clear that the federal government hasn't been — and won't be any time soon — in a position to pay for harbor maintenance projects, he added.

An ongoing issue that may see some resolution soon, Kiff said, is the John Wayne Airport settlement. The terms of the original 1982 settlement, which sets limits on the airport's operations, will expire in 2015.

Before that time, a new settlement must be agreed upon by several parties, including two local residents' groups, the city and the county.

A major project last year, Kiff said, was working on the new agreement, the terms of which were sent to the Federal Aviation Administration.

"We're hoping to get news in a matter of days," Kiff said.

Although many Newport residents enjoy the protection the airport's noise restrictions and curfew have afforded, Kiff cautioned that the settlement will "have to allow a little growth, otherwise things could blow up."

He also spoke about several efforts aimed at saving the city money without sacrificing the quality of services.

While the city has made strides to shrink from about 833 employees to about 750 since he started as manager in 2009, he said, "We need to get smaller than that to deal with our pension costs."

The city has taken steps to reduce them by negotiating greater contributions from employees, Kiff said, but staff has also been actively seeking opportunities to outsource city services or eliminate expenses.

Moving forward, the city will continue looking at outsourcing its trash services and may look into outsourcing the operation of its jail, he said.

The culmination of one such effort was the City Council's recent decision to install pay stations at the city's Balboa and Corona del Mar parking lots, both of which were staffed by about 18 mostly part-time employees during summer and about 13 workers in the off-season.

Now, beachgoers will pay for parking at one of 23 new pay stations, and two vehicles with license plate recognition technology will enforce time limits, according to a staff report. Visitors will be able to pay online or with cash, credit card or their cell phones.

That move, the report estimated, will bring in an extra $450,000 to $550,000 per year.

Twitter: @jillcowan

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