Newport council boosts spending on civic center

The Newport Beach City Council on Tuesday closed out some leftover accounting on the city's new Civic Center, the estimated total cost of which inched up to $139.9 million, according to a staff report.

"Tonight," Assistant City Manager Steve Badum told the council, "I'm hoping to bring you to the end of a long journey that started five years ago."

The council approved increasing the project's contingency fund to $6.5 million from $1.62 million to pay for late changes to design and construction needs — though Badum said the city is still working with contractors to negotiate down that amount.

The unanimous vote also increased a contract with architectural firm Bohlin Cywinski Jackson by $579,670, which put that total contract at just shy of $5 million.

The approved change orders add up to about 6% of the total construction cost, though the city had aimed to keep changes to 2.5%, according to a staff report.

According to Badum's presentation, the bulk of the contingency money, about $4.3 million, would go toward correcting design omissions. Ultimately, the fund will pay for more than 750 changes, most of which cost less than $10,000, he said.

"We always say in the business that there's no such thing as a perfect set of plans," Badum said. "Overall, changes are approximately 6%, which is actually very good and typical for a project of this complexity."

Previous estimates had put the total cost at about $131 million, then $135 million, drawing criticism from residents who said that was overly extravagant for a city hall. The city has countered that the project, which also includes new park areas and a library expansion, is meant to create an enduring center of civic life.

While overall, council members said they were pleased with the way the Civic Center turned out, Councilman Tony Petros and Councilwoman Nancy Gardner asked that going forward, the full council be consulted on design changes more frequently over the course of long-term building projects.

Gardner, along with Councilman Mike Henn, also urged city staff to continue, as Gardner put it, to "grind" through negotiations to decrease the late costs.



The city approved its proposed budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1. The budget invested in infrastructure improvements, staff reports said, and added police officers while reducing overall city staffing levels.

The budget, according to staff reports, is balanced.

In a presentation, City Manager Dave Kiff also took to task concerns sparked by an Orange County Register editorial that an employment study commissioned by the city had recommended raises for top-level city executives.

Kiff, whose contract was renewed at the meeting, said that the study, conducted by Fox Lawson and Associates, established set compensation ranges as required by state law to give "certainty and equity" to salaries.

"No one got a raise as a result of that report," he said.

In November, the council voted to give Kiff a 3% raise, bumping his base annual salary from $225,000 to $231,750, with 9% of that going toward his pension costs. City Clerk Leilani Brown also received an 11% raise at that meeting, boosting her salary from $110,830 to $123,800, with 9% also going to her pension.

But in a newsletter last week and at this week's meeting, Kiff stressed that he had specifically asked not to receive a raise during this contract renewal.

In a budget checklist, about $35,000 was allocated for one-time bonuses, to be divided among about 10 employees, Kiff said. Those would not factor into those employees' pension amounts, he said.


Local Coastal Program

In other business, the council took a dig at the California Coastal Commission, which city officials have said stymies progress on projects.

Up for approval on the meeting's consent calendar was a resolution that would have supported the state's allocation of about $4 million per year to the commission to improve Local Coastal Program planning processes.

LCPs give cities authority to approve development projects according to commission guidelines without having to wait for the commission itself to consider them.

Newport is in the midst of developing its LCP, which is why staff recommended that the council resolve to support increased funding for the commission.

However, Petros said that given the city's history of butting proverbial heads with the commission, he couldn't support the resolution.

Despite Gardner's questioning of whether the council was being "strategically foolish" in doing so, the council sided with Petros, with Gardner and Henn casting dissenting votes.

In other business, a discussion about a proposed telecommunications obelisk on Newport Coast Drive, just across from Sage Hill High School, was continued to a future meeting.


Fourth of July

At a study session before the meeting, Deputy Police Chief David McGill discussed plans for a "family friendly" Fourth of July.

He said officers are reaching out to known "party houses" in advance of festivities and making efforts to reduce outside agency costs to police the Balboa Peninsula and West Newport. McGill said there will be no street closures, but barricades will be erected where necessary.

Last year, he said, the city paid about $120,000 for added enforcement by outside agencies.

On that July 4, law enforcers were kept busy with 119 arrests, 522 personal citations, 545 parking citations and four loud-and-unruly citations.

The Loud and Unruly Gathering Ordinance aims to calm down the party atmosphere for which Fourth of July celebrations in Newport Beach had become known.

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