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Mailbag: The Newport Central Library needs a lecture hall for prominent guest speakers

The Newport Beach Central Library.
The Newport Beach Central Library. A Library Lecture Hall has been proposed for the campus.
(File Photo)

In a recent letter, Balboa Island resident Bob McCaffrey opposed the proposed Library Lecture Hall at the Newport Beach Central Library (“Newport library doesn’t need to build a lecture hall,” Oct. 9.) McCaffrey complained about its cost and questioned the need for a lecture hall. He suggested that instead the Civic Center Council Chambers or Community Room be used.

Previously, McCaffrey suggested that the high school auditoriums at Newport Harbor and Corona del Mar high schools be used without bothering to ask Newport-Mesa Unified about his plans for their facilities. Supt. Frederick Navarro emailed that the idea was not pragmatic, due to already heavy overuse by the high schools and local elementary and middle schools. McCaffrey has also suggested Oasis Senior Center.

McCaffrey’s latest proposed alternative sites for the high-profile speakers, presentations and performances contemplated for the new lecture hall ignores that the groups that raise funds for and are instrumental in securing the programming are library-centric groups.

They love libraries and are motivated by their desire to ensure our library system continues to be the “cultural, educational and informational heart of the city.” They believe that better facilities mean better programming opportunities.


Here’s what else McCaffrey failed to consider:

1. The cost of the lecture hall will be a private-public partnership where half of the cost will be raised by library supporters. Speaking of costs, library staff, who also perform other functions at the library, cannot be efficiently utilized for the planning and executing of events if the events are not actually at the library.

2. The Newport Beach Public Library Foundation (with offices located at the Central Library) seeks to attract world class speakers, presentations and performers, many of whom expect to discuss their books or other scholarly work at a library. For example, the first speaker for the 2019-20 Witte Lectures is internationally renowned presidential historian Doris Kearns Goodwin. And sometimes events like Goodwin’s draw more people than the Friends’ Room, the Council Chambers and the Community Room will hold; the lecture hall is currently planned for approximately 275 seats with overflow capacity of an additional approximately 50 seats.

3. The lecture hall will be designed with permanent, comfortable seating. The floor design of the hall will be sloped from back to front for excellent line of sight to the stage from each seat in the hall. Neither the Community Room, nor the Event Center at the Oasis Senior Center (nor for that matter the Friends’ Room), offers fixed comfortable seating or a sloped floor that preserves all-important sight lines. And, needless to say, McCaffrey’s Council Chambers’ suggestion ignores the fact that the chambers have a permanent dais at the front that disqualifies the chambers as a reasonable option for theatrical, musical or like performances.


The proposed library lecture hall will complete the Central Library campus and allow the library, its affiliates and outside groups to offer world class speakers, presentations and performances.

Paul K. Watkins
Vice chair, Board of Library Trustees
Newport Beach

El Morro update coming to council Oct. 29

City and school district officials attended a PTA meeting at El Morro School on Sept. 17 to discuss concerns about policing. Although the city responds to most 911 calls relating to the school, the Orange County Sheriff’s Department has formal responsibility for serving the school since it is in an unincorporated area of the county.

In response to concerns from the meeting, the city has secured authorization from the Sheriff’s Department to exercise police powers for all activities occurring at El Morro School. In furtherance of this authorization, the Laguna Beach Police Department has been directed to respond to all calls at El Morro School (as of Oct. 3), and the City Council will have the ability to formalize this arrangement at its meeting on Oct. 29. LBPD has also been directed to analyze how 911 calls are routed from landlines and cellphones with the goal of getting all such calls routed directly to LBPD dispatch.

The issue of possible annexation has also come up. In order for the city of Laguna Beach to annex the area encompassing El Morro School, it would need to also annex the state recreational vehicle park and county open space to the city’s northern boundary. If the city is successful at ensuring 911 calls are routed to LBPD dispatch, and continues providing police services to El Morro School, annexation would have no bearing on policing services or the resources to provide such services. In addition, annexation is a lengthy process at significant taxpayer expense.

LBPD’s school resource officer (SRO) position was also discussed at the PTA meeting. The city provides the current SRO and covers annual costs in excess of $185,000 a year. I will be discussing options for the addition of a second SRO with the school district superintendent, and I will provide an update to the City Council at the Oct. 29 meeting.

A lot of progress has been made in the last month and more work is underway. Look for the next update at the next council meeting.

John Pietig
City Manager
Laguna Beach


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