Newport council pushes art projects

Public art had a night in the spotlight at the Newport Beach City Council meeting Tuesday, with discussion centered on the creation of an arts and culture fund and the selection of a sculpture to adorn the new civic center grounds.

"We think it's [the fund] a meaningful and significant contribution to public arts in our city," City Arts Commissioner Robert Smith told the council members, who voted unanimously to set aside 2% of previously unallocated  fees from development agreements for art and cultural facilities. It was the start, Smith said, of an effort that could "grow into something much larger."

Tom Pollack, capital campaign chairman of the ExplorOcean nautical museum, added that making Newport a more culturally vibrant community is "one of those generational issues." The new fund, he said, "won't take long to have an effect."

But area resident Laura Curran said Newport has plenty of culture already.

"If you take the whole city into account, we've already got a lot going on," she said, adding that staff reports didn't clearly show what gaps could be filled in the community by such a fund. "If you're shepherding public funds, a higher standard needs to be met. …We deserve a full picture of how these funds would be spent."

Based on current development agreements, which set amounts that developers must pay the city to offset the impact of projects, about $945,000 would be funneled into the fund — although that could change as developments are approved or rejected by other agencies.

Councilman Mike Henn applauded Mayor Keith Curry's push to start the fund, and suggested exploring the possibility of hiring consultants to help develop a "broad-based" arts master plan.

In another vote, the council decided that giant curls of steel and bronze seaweed sculpted by Corona del Mar artist Sarah A. Wilkinson will decorate a to-be-determined spot at Newport Beach's new civic center.

The piece, called Uprooted II, is about 7 feet long , 6 feet wide and 20 inches tall. It was inspired by walks along Little Corona Beach, Arts Commissioner Carole Boller said in a presentation detailing why the commission recommended the sculpture.

"It's a sample of what we see each day," she said, and symbolizes the crossing paths of natural and manmade environments.

The city will lease the sculpture for a year at a cost of $750 before deciding whether to purchase it for about $25,000.

In other business, the council unanimously approved a memorandum of understanding about the proposed new terms of the John Wayne Airport settlement agreement. Following almost two years of negotiations, the city announced a proposed agreement that would set new terms before a 1985 legal settlement restricting the airport's growth expires in 2015.

Now that proposal must make its way through an environmental review process led by the county.

The council heard a brief report from Harbor Commissioner Paul Blank on whether Newport Beach could benefit from greater regulation of stand-up paddleboarders. The short answer: No.

But, Blank said, there will be a paddleboarding forum to discuss safety and other related issues at ExplorOcean from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. on April 7. If that generates enough interest, the commission will schedule another forum, he added.

An agenda item that would've moved forward the reuse of the old City Hall site on Newport Boulevard was continued to a future meeting, so there was no public hearing on how the property should be used.

Twitter: @JillCowan

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