Mailbag: Newport Harbor Foundation works toward local control

Duffy Duffield stands next to his first "Duffy" electric boat during the Newport Harbor Foundation kickoff Oct. 14.
Duffy Duffield stands next to his first “Duffy” electric boat during the Newport Harbor Foundation kickoff luncheon at the Balboa Bay Resort on Oct. 14.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

Last week, 175 residents, political leaders and Newport Harbor supporters donated over $550,000 to kick off the Newport Harbor Foundation. The foundation’s goal is to return local control of our harbor to the city.

We celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Duffy Electric Boat. Duffy’s passion for the harbor spans decades.

With 25 miles of frontage, almost 10,000 boats of all shapes and sizes, kayaks, paddle boards, sailing clubs and charter boats, the harbor resembles the 405 Freeway on a busy weekend.

An estimated 7 million visitors per year use Newport Harbor’s complex ecosystem that generates an estimated $1 billion per year of economic activity.

Our harbor is essentially a city within the city. We believe our harbor asset needs to be properly managed by the city.

Our mission is to “Take Back Our Harbor.” It begins with Newport Beach creating our own Harbor Public Safety Department operated by our city, not the Orange County Sheriff’s Department.

The foundation will raise over $2.5 million to purchase and donate a fire boat and police boats to the city for a Harbor Public Safety Department.

This plan does not displace the Sheriffs Harbor Patrol. They will continue to use their Homeland Security grant to police the coastline for drug runners and immigrants attempting to enter the country illegally. They will be available for large-scale emergencies in the harbor through existing mutual aid agreements.

Our Harbor Public Safety Department will use the city’s existing police, fire and lifeguards to make the harbor safe for residents and tourists. We believe local control of the harbor is best achieved by Newport Beach running the show.

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Dennis Durgan
Chairman, Newport Harbor Foundation
Past Newport Beach Harbor Master

Thoughts on campaign to elect N.B. mayor

It was rumored that a sizeable number of proponents were going to attend the Oct. 12 Newport Beach City Council meeting to support Councilman Will O’Neill’s “Elect a Mayor” plan. However, the supporters never materialized, leaving instead an audience primarily of opponents. It was not unusually large, but sufficient in size to chasten the council members for considering putting the mayoral plan on the discussion calendar for a future date.

Not one person in the audience spoke in favor of electing a mayor. Instead, in measured and intelligent speeches, seven community leaders spoke against the proposal citing the fact that electing a mayor should be one vetted by the whole community, not just the council, before going on the ballot. This, said one speaker, would allow for more careful consideration of the proposal. The failure of the proposal to meet the term limits of the City Charter, thus allowing the mayor to serve 16 uninterrupted years in leadership instead of eight, sets an unbelievably long period of control by one person. This coupled with the expanded power that the new proposal would give the mayor in relationship to the council could easily lead to authoritarian rule.

When it came time to vote it appeared that Mr. O’Neill had already persuaded the council members to support bringing the proposal up for discussion at a future date. My observations of members’ faces and gestures indicated to me that they were not overly enthusiastic about their votes or their role. In fact, not one member commented or spoke to issues brought forth by the audience.

Giving the council the benefit of the doubt, perhaps they thought that putting the plan on a future agenda would allow them to discuss the proposal at length. Unfortunately, this has not been a successful route in the past for opponents of an issue because public discussion will occur in only one meeting consisting of comments to the council. It excludes the public from any meaningful discussion regarding whether this major attempt to restructure our city government should even make it as far as the ballot.

Lynn Lorenz
Newport Beach

Proponents of the Newport Beach charter change say that the people should elect their mayor. But the people do select their mayor, indirectly. Residents elect seven City Council members who select (each year) one of their number as mayor. Given the small size of the council, and the four-year terms of the members, and the frequency of second terms, most council members serve as mayor for at least a year.

The current system effectively ensures that mayors have prior experience in our city government. Since 2001, nobody has served as mayor without serving at least 18 months on the council; all but one mayor has served a prior year as mayor pro tem. Nothing ensures, under the proposed system, that the mayor will have any prior city experience.

A few large cities in California elect mayors directly, but smaller cities generally have mayors (like ours) chosen by the council. Newport Beach is not large, with only 85,239 people. Among cities in Orange County with populations between 80,000 and 100,000, only Westminster elects its mayor directly. Five cities in this population bracket use indirect election. And some much larger cities, like Huntington Beach, use indirect election.

The current system encourages collegiality among the members of the City Council, for each member either has served or is likely to serve soon as mayor. The system encourages the city staff to treat each council member with respect, not to defer to the powerful mayor and to slight the weaker council members.

The proposed system would be more prone to corruption. You do not have to be James Madison to see that a powerful mayor, who serves at least four years, perhaps eight, and who would likely have protégés on the council, would create risks that do not exist with a ceremonial mayor, serving one year, and who needs three votes from fellow council members to pass anything.

Join us in opposing the proposed charter change.

Walter B. Stahr
Newport Beach

On Tuesday night, the City Council has a pretty simple question to answer. Do they trust voters to make a decision about electing the mayor?

Only the voters can change the charter. Only voters can choose whether they want to elect their mayor. And so it’s time for the same people who rely on voters to occupy their positions on the City Council to trust the voters again with this important decision.

Without question, we want to elect our mayor. Many people agree with that basic statement and agree that the system proposed makes a whole lot of sense. Some people have disagreed with that basic statement. But we won’t know how many are on either side without an election.

No one on the City Council could possibly speak for the “community” by voting against giving the community the choice.

In an era when governments across the board are taking away choices, Newport Beach’s City Council can be the light shining through as one that gives its residents the ability to take the power of electing the mayor back.

We encourage the City Council to support voter choice by placing the “Elect Our Mayor” initiative on the ballot.

Michelle and John Somers
Newport Beach

Walkout undermines truth, civic duty

Civil disobedience as a political tool has a long, storied and particularly American history. Henry David Thoreau coined the term in his famous essay of the same name. And Thoreau put his words into action. In refusing to pay his poll tax (which he argued publicly supported the Mexican American war) he was briefly imprisoned. His mentor, Ralph Waldo Emerson (in a possibly apocryphal exchange) was shocked to see his friend Henry so imprisoned and blurted out, “Why Henry, whatever are you doing in there?!” To which Henry replied, “Why my dear sir, whatever are you doing out there?” The point being that for civil disobedience to be anything less than simple lawlessness, the citizens who undertake to break immoral or improper laws must freely admit guilt and then accept the imposition of the prescribed punishment. Thoreau was arguing for disobedience as a civic duty, as opposed to simple noncompliance and lawlessness.

For the teaching staff who improperly called in sick to attend the walkout or otherwise improperly reported personal time, for the parents who elected to report their children as excused and, unfortunately, for the children themselves who lost yet another opportunity to engage with their peers in the school setting, the ordinary consequences for these actions must be imposed impartially and without favor. Certainly, the districts of Huntington Beach have suffered the consequence the organizers of the walkout intended to engineer — a one-day loss of state revenue.

That the organizers of the walkout constructed the justification of their action upon the shifting sands of distortions of scientific fact with a clear intent to deceive is a matter of grave concern for members of the community of Huntington Beach (as I am) who are also members of the scientific community (as I am). When lies are designed and honed to provoke unreasoning and unreasonable fear, it is clear that the aim of the whole endeavor is to occlude the genuine interests of parents of children in the district: that our children be safe and in a safe environment be allowed to learn and develop the friendships and skills that will serve them a lifetime. In the genuine fog of uncertainty of a global pandemic, provoking elective fear to further a political agenda is unconscionable. Raising the concern we all feel for our children and our loved ones to the level of mortal terror and moral panic serves only to undermine our safety and the effectiveness of our educational institutions. It is a blow struck in the service of evil.

Galen Pickett
Huntington Beach

Hoping to say goodbye to oil

Congratulations to Huntington Beach Mayor Kim Carr and Councilwoman Natalie Moser for spearheading a permanent ban on new offshore oil drilling. Oil must be put in the collective rear view mirror of our city, our nation and our earth as we drive toward a sustainable future.

Ben Miles
Huntington Beach

Like we have done several times over the years, two of my baby boomer friends and I recently met to discuss the good, the bad and the ugly of life in America these days.

After we “solved” all of society’s ills, we asked each other this question: What’s one issue you would like resolved before you pass? One said, “An all out, national commitment to solar energy.” The other said, “The need for new approaches to solving homelessness.” I connected the dots between 1985, when I first was involved in the issue and today, when I answered: “The need to permanently end offshore oil drilling off our coast.”

The recent Orange County oil spill underscores our need to protect both the ocean and our way of life. The fact that the Laguna Beach and Huntington Beach city councils have formally adopted resolutions calling for an end to offshore oil drilling is a step in the right direction. What’s needed now is city council members in Santa Ana, Anaheim, Fullerton, Buena Park and other inland communities to step up and pass similar resolutions. Tar balls on our beaches aren’t just problems for people lucky enough to live near the water, they potentially are economic disasters for everyone living in the county.

To be honest, I don’t know if my friends will live long enough to see their last bucket issues fulfilled, but I am certain we have the chance to see mine become a reality. It’s been 36 years since I first was involved in the offshore oil fight. If enough people have the political will now, I believe we can solve this problem once and for all in the next 36 months.

Denny Freidenrich
Laguna Beach

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