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Mailbag: City leaders are letting Balboa Island lose its charm

The Ferris wheel at the Balboa Fun Zone is lit up behind one of the ferries shuttling cars and pedestrians.
The Ferris wheel at the Balboa Fun Zone circulates in the background as one of the ferries shuttles cars and pedestrians between Balboa Peninsula and Balboa Island in 2015. A reader writes that she has seen too many changes on Balboa Island.
(Don Kelsen / Los Angeles Times)

I fell in love with Balboa Island, Corona del Mar and the Fun Zone when I was 10, like thousands upon thousands of other children, not the least my own children and grandchildren.

Balboa Island and surroundings offer memories that indeed last a lifetime, maybe especially so because those vacation weeks are brief and precious, so families fill them with nothing but fun. It has always been obvious the area was created in the 1920s to be a vacation mecca, with the peninsula as the young adult party place and the island for families with young children swimming in its protected beaches.

I have been watching the area change for decades, feeling helpless to stop mansionization of the island. The rich folks who buy or build the three-story monsters do so for bragging rights, never go to the beach or cross the ferry, are often absentee owners, and after three years get bored, sell the place and buy somewhere else to brag about.

Our cottages are quickly disappearing. I personally watched two developers stand in front of 202 Amethyst Ave., haggle over which would get it, and saw it bulldozed in 15 minutes for a mansion. It never made it to the MLS. This happens a lot.

The city is the wolf watching the henhouse, benefiting always from much higher property tax per parcel. For every mansion, there’s one less cottage for families on vacation and one less family helping Marine Avenue merchants survive, not to mention the loss of charm the island cottages have evoked for a century.

Then there’s the evisceration of the Fun Zone. First the city approved the demise of the bumper cars to build the museum no one goes to and will surely fail. Then it took out the iconic merry-go-round, probably the last in Newport Beach, while Paris, France, has merry-go-rounds in practically every park.

Then it took out the beloved Penny Arcade and allowed the restaurant around the corner to take the space. How can a restaurant afford that real estate? The big picture as I see it is for the Fun Zone to fail to make way for condos, and the Fun Zone will become as boring as Lido and the other five SFR islands. But the property tax haul will be enormous, as with the mansions.

Now the City Council is considering an ordinance where owners must reside in their short-term rentals. That’s impossible on its face and they know it. I have long known I’d have a lot more income if I rented my two cottages out full time, because short-term has a lot of costs, not the least the city’s transient taxes.

But I find joy in the faces of the families I rent to, especially the summer repeats with their ecstatic children. Short-term rents allow my family to come on Easter and Boat Parade weeks and time in between renters to do touch-ups beyond what my excellent manager oversees.

The rich folk who don’t want the summer parking and traffic knew it was a vacation paradise when they purchased on the island and are utterly selfish and heartless if they want vacations to stop. I think they’re behind this. Or worse, maybe it’s the city itself.

Lynn Stewart
Balboa Island

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After months of public debate, the Newport Beach City Council passed phase one of the Short-term Lodging (STL) ordinance on July 14. This ordinance includes a few new good-neighbor policies, encouraging owners and operators to screen STL guests to assure that they are neighborhood-friendly.

The council recognizes the long tradition of STL as part of the city’s landscape and economic engine for nearly 100 years, beginning when Balboa was promoted as a holiday destination. This tradition continues today generating income for the city, owners and businesses, generated from rentals primarily on the Peninsula and Balboa Island.

During the summer months 8 million to 10 million people visit Newport Beach, most of them for day trips. During the summer these day visitors strain resources and take up most of the available street parking.

At the same time, overnight guests contribute to the vibrancy of the neighborhood, buy mementos, frequent local businesses and restaurants, and rent bikes and surfboards, among other things.. STL guests generate millions of dollars, translating into sales tax and transient occupancy tax.

The police department and lifeguards do a remarkable job of policing, navigating traffic, watching over beachgoers and people enjoying the ocean. Most residents on Balboa Island and the Peninsula beach community understand summer is a busy time and there are impacts on parking. However, all STL properties must have at least one parking space on site.

Newport Beach is one of the most highly regulated cities in the country for STLs. All are licensed via a permit process and are mandated to pay transient occupancy tax just like hotels, exceeding $4 million a year.

Most “rental home” owners hire management companies responsible for the balance between the visiting guests and residents, assuring owners that guests adhere to the noise ordinances and abide by policies stipulated in the contracts all visitors sign.

Each visiting STL guest is given information including owner and management company contact information, city ordinances related to gatherings and noise, street sweeping schedules and other pertinent material.

Residents and visitors have the same goal: to enjoy the beach, the bay and all inherent recreational opportunities while taking care to be good neighbors.

Short-term lodging continues to be a popular choice for generations of families to enjoy our Newport Beach Paradise.

Craig Batley
Newport Beach

Steel’s video shows her bigotry

Mary Brown’s letter (Mailbag, July 26) seems to indicate that she is upset that Rep. Harley Rouda’s voting record is 100% in accord with that of Nancy Pelosi.

I wonder if she would be irritated if Michelle Steel (the erstwhile Republican candidate for this November’s 48th Congressional District) voted in lockstep with Trump if she were to be elected. She seems to feel that Rouda wants to defund the police (he does not) and that he is a “socialist” (he is not) and needs to be held “accountable” (whatever that means.)

I also wonder if she is aware of Michelle Steel’s video that shows her bigotry.

In the video she states that she removed her daughter from college at UC Santa Cruz because her daughter now felt gay marriage was OK. Steel sent her daughter for “brainwashing” (Steel’s own words) to Marymount for a year and then to Vanderbilt. Obviously Steel isn’t for equality in marriage.

In this day and age we should all be careful about sending someone like Steel with this bigoted mindset to Congress.

Lawrence Freedman
Newport Beach

Thank you for the Mailbag

I want to thank the Daily Pilot for its renewed interest in publishing letters to the editor when there is space in the newspaper.

I look forward to all points of view, and many of my friends and neighbors do as well. It may interest you to know that there is great pass-along readership of the Mailbag and further scrutiny of all parts of the paper (articles, commentaries and even ads).

Whenever we come across an advertiser (e.g. Figge Photography which a friend of mine has used, Merrill Gardens where an acquaintance of mine stays, or UCI Health which I have used), we applaud them. The readership of issues with letters also helps get greater exposure for columnists and contributors like June Casagrande.

I also applaud the highlighting of the Mailbag (e.g. “Also from the Daily Pilot,” July 20) on the front page. I have a renewed interest in rereading the issues containing letters (which I save), and it often leads to greater appreciation of the writing staff (like the great local Sports reporting of Matt Szabo and Andrew Turner).

I am making sure that all of my chums from the old Huntington Beach Independent readership are tuned in to the wider focus of the Daily Pilot. Kudos again and keep up the good work!

Tim Geddes
Huntington Beach

Thoughts on O.C. schools

Maybe the headline should have been “Keeping schools closed has a teachers union link” (Push for reopening Orange County schools without masks has pro-charter school links, July 16),

I’m sure that if the governor hadn’t protected teachers’ incomes (except for charter school teachers) the union could find a way to open the schools. The American Academy of Pediatrics, the CDC and Harvard University researchers agree that the kids need to be back in school. Why is it that 22 countries in Europe have allowed students to return to the classroom without any spike in COVID-19?

I keep hearing “follow the science.” The science says kids need to be in school. I think school administrators and teachers are smart enough to figure it out. It’s not rocket science.

Wear masks where appropriate, socially distance and wash your hands. These are policies that should be put in place by the local school districts as the O.C. Board of Education stated and keep the state and federal politicians out of it. I trust the educators more than I do the politicians whose motives are questionable.

Jerry Piersall
Costa Mesa

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The recent decision by the trustees of Newport-Mesa Unified School District to pass the 4x4 model is misguided in so many ways.

First, the fact that the board didn’t listen to their constituents (we the parents and students in the district) is disheartening at a minimum and as elected officials a true dereliction of duty on their part. It was clearly evident throughout the meeting last week that this vote was ‘in the bag’ long before the meeting took place.

From the hand-picked speakers (teachers and administrators) to the outright disregard for the factual representation by the student body, it was clearly evident that something else was at work.

As I thought about the rationale for their decision, I kept harkening back to the fact that this model helps no one. It was evident that once distant learning was put in place, some teachers mailed it in for the remainder of the spring session with little to no accountability. The vote last week only enhances that line of thinking.

The constricted class schedule will force all parties (students and teachers) to work at a much faster pace, increasing anxiety of all parties involved regardless of learning level. In addition, the limit on classes will create a crowding out effect for programs such as the arts, yearbook, ASB, language, and P.E.

It has been widely reported that AP students will be severely impacted by the break between class and year end testing. Let’s not forget that upper-level students, many who are college bound, will have to explain to universities why they only took three to four classes instead of the usual six to seven.

These students will be at a distinct disadvantage versus other students from other districts, possibly losing out on a coveted spot at their college of choice. And for those who are in support of this model claiming a safer environment, the reduction in students that teachers interact with does not guarantee a safer option.

There are plenty of other options to keep teachers, administrators and students safe and still provide a rich learning environment for our kids. NMUSD must do better. I know that while I felt helpless last week watching, I do have one last power and that is at the voting booth. I will be exercising that right the next time I vote if this pattern continues.

Steve Shaw
Newport Beach

Wearing masks should be mandatory

I agree with Dr. Michael Hurwtiz (“The benefits of face masks are beyond dispute,” July 28). One the one hand, the vast majority of medical experts believe wearing a face covering helps prevent the spread of COVID-19. On the other hand, those who refuse to wear a mask say it is perfectly legal for them to “just say no.”

With these two thoughts in mind, here’s my question: Shouldn’t we be doing everything possible to slow the spread of the coronavirus? If you answer yes, then I suspect you are wearing a mask. If you object to the word “everything,” then I’m guessing you aren’t wearing one. Which begs another question: Why not pass a federal law requiring every citizen to do his or her part in the war on COVID?

At 71, I’m old enough to remember the good ol’ days of driving without a seat belt. The objections to enacting the federal Motor Safety Law in 1968 were virtually the same then as they are now to wearing a mask. In the end, Congress decided the health and safety of all Americans outweighed an individual’s right to drive any which way he or she wanted.

The old phrase, “You don’t bring a knife to a gun fight,” applies to our current battle against COVID-19. Simply put, attacking the virus piece meal — state by state, county by county, city by city — isn’t working. We need a unified, national plan to break the back of this virus. It’s time everyone, and I mean everyone, buckle up and join the fight. Wear a mask.

Denny Freidenrich
Laguna Beach

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Our nation is under brutal attack. The enemy is COVID-19. Within a span of less than five months, we have had over 4 million wounded and 150,000 dead.

The simplest way to combat this enemy is for every resident of our country to wear a mask in public — outdoors, indoors, on airplanes, in buses and trains, in places of business, in any public space where there are other human beings. Yes, it is that simple. Yes, there is total unanimity on this issue in the scientific community, notwithstanding nonsensical political pronouncements to the contrary.

It is unfathomable as to why so many in our midst are so churlish about this simple minor inconvenience, which is guaranteed to save tens of thousands of lives and get our economy back on track.

If COVID-19 was actually a foreign nation attacking us, those refusing to wear a mask would be considered enemy collaborators and dealt with accordingly. It is the height of absurdity for right-wing media, the White House and its many enablers to glorify these petulant brats as protesters fighting for their freedom against an oppressive government.

Let us reaffirm our pledge of allegiance — that we are one nation, indivisible. Please listen to science. Please, don’t let our corrosive politics divide us to such an extent that tens of thousands of our fellow citizens are doomed to die as collateral damage. Stop being COVID collaborators!

Jamshed Dastur
Balboa Island

Desal water project is all wet

For the past 20 years Poseidon has sought to force the Orange County Water District into a one-sided contract whereby Poseidon will produce 50 million gallons of fresh water daily, which the district will buy at a price set by Poseidon whether or not the water is needed.

If this is such a great idea, why has Poseidon found it necessary to contribute millions of dollars to elected officials to gain their support and is offering to dredge the entrance to the Bolsa Chica wetlands to gain that support? This dredging will only take place if their permit is approved but will be kissed off if the permit is denied.

Desalinized water is much more expensive than the water purchased from the Metropolitan Water District, which costs $900 to $1,100 an acre foot while Poseidon’s desal water costs $2,600 an acre foot (their figure), so you can expect a rate hike. The water is not needed, unnecessary and too expensive and will cause extreme sea-life mortality.

Richard C. Armendariz
Huntington Beach

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