Local and national issues raised at Meet the Mayor event

At Saturday morning's Meet the Mayor question-and-answer session, Newport Beach Mayor Keith Curry fielded complaints on everything from noisy motorcycles to speeding bicycles, but a certain question piqued his interest.

"How can young people help with some of the issues that are going on in our community?" asked Franklin Watkins.

The young Boy Scout was at the Balboa Branch Library that morning to work on his Citizenship in the Community merit badge.

"The greatest joy of being mayor is meeting some of the active and involved young people that we have in our community," Curry said. "When I was growing up, we'd collect bottles and turn them in and give the money to a charity. We've got kids here who form recycling companies."

The mayor cited the Vest-A-Dog Club, started by 14-year-old Jenny Conde, as inspiration for Franklin.

"There's a young gal at Corona del Mar High School who raises money to buy bullet-proof vests for police dogs," Curry said. "Talk about a unique opportunity to be in service."

He encouraged the audience of more than a dozen people not to be cynical of local government and instead view it as an avenue for public good.

A later question brought that cynicism to bear though, as resident Kirby Piazza asked if Curry agreed with recent statements by Newport's congressman, Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Costa Mesa), that climate change is a "total fraud."

"A lot of us live at ground zero if water levels go up one foot," Piazza said.

Curry said disregarding science is a "poor way to make policy."

"I'm not a scientist, so I don't understand the ins and outs of climate change, but I'll tell you this, I've traveled pretty well around the world, and you can see the evidence of climate change, so whether you want to believe it or not there's things that aught to be done to protect your community," Curry said.

Newport Beach has installed tsunami sirens and is looking at other measures, such as raising the sea wall at Balboa Island, to be prepared for consequences of climate change, according to the mayor.

Curry couldn't escape the event without talking about the controversial issue of fire pits.

It was the young Boy Scout who managed to squeeze in a question on the hot-button topic.

"For the issue of fire pits, what branch of local government is responsible for taking care of those issues?" Franklin asked.

"Well, that's a little bit under dispute, isn't it?" Curry responded.

He was referencing conflicting positions from the South Coast Air Quality Management District, which imposed new regulations that would remove some fire rings, and the Coastal Commission, whose staff has recommended keeping the fire rings in place.

Newport sparked a regionwide debate over beach bonfires and their affect on health when it applied to remove its fire pits.

City officials have since withdrawn the request from the Coastal Commission and are working with the AQMD on an alternative-fuel fire ring pilot program that could use propane.

In the end, Curry answered Franklin's question by saying fire pits should fall under the purview of individual cities.

"We've always said, and our position as a city has always been, this ought to be a local control issue," he said.

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