City swaps out seals in council chambers

As some Newport Beach residents continue to mutter complaints about the abundant failings of an opulent Civic Center — or "Taj Mahal" as some continue to call it — one concerned denizen has had his issue resolved.

The 36-inch metal seal that hung in the Newport Beach council chambers was replaced Monday with a 48-inch, $6,500 painted metal version, which came at the request of former Mayor and former City Councilman Don Webb just more than a year ago. An anonymous donor paid for the new colorful seal.

During the Feb. 12, 2013, council meeting, Webb explained that he believed the Newport Beach city seal was one of the most artistic and colorful in the nation.

"It has little resemblance to the gray disc over there, which some have referred to as a 1943 steel penny," he said, referring to the seal that hung on the wall behind the council members.

The city adopted its current seal, designed by the late artist and Newport Beach resident Rex Brandt, in 1957, according to Webb.

The albacore represent the city's origin as a fishing village. The sailboats recall Newport Beach's function as a recreational area.

For the overall design, colors were specifically chosen, and Webb insisted that they should at the very least be represented as such in the seat of government.

The new seal was officially unveiled during Tuesday's council meeting, while the "modern interpretation of the existing city seal," as Assistant City Manager Stephen Badum described it, will be stored until it is moved elsewhere in the city, perhaps to Marina Park.

"It would be a shame not to re-use it," Badum said. "We're accused of a lot of things, but we don't like to waste."

A wooden version of the seal from the former city hall site also remains to be relocated, Badum said.


Privacy partitions

In a second design tweak, the city also recently addressed an unforeseen problem with the large glass wall that provides a clear view into the council chambers.

Although intended to represent a government that values transparency, certain functions requiring privacy were not originally anticipated.

In particular, the Civil Service Board, which deals with topics such as employee grievances, requested a more-confidential space to conduct its hearings, according to the draft minutes from its meeting Feb. 3.

As such, the city recently purchased several temporary partitions on wheels, which cost less than $500 each, to place in front of the floor-to ceiling glass when needed.

The new partitions might also be of use if the council wanted to hold its closed sessions in the chambers, rather than the separate room currently used.

"I have long thought it strange that the council holds its closed sessions (and 6 p.m. dinners) in the see-through council conference room (just north of the main chamber entrance)," resident and regular council meeting attendee Jim Mosher wrote in an email on the subject, "which to the best of my knowledge has no window covering, and where curious members of the public, if they were so inclined, could easily peek in."

The room does provide a view of a few people inside, but presentations cannot be seen, nor can anything be heard, said City Atty. Aaron Harp.

"From the legal perspective, it doesn't impact the confidentiality of closed session," he said.

As for the lack of electrical outlets for public use? No official word yet.

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