Commentary: Our city leaders appear to have lost their way

My philosophy has always been to openly address challenging issues and commit to achieving meaningful solutions.

I have been actively involved in a number of difficult issues facing our community over the past 15 years — residential neighborhood integrity and safety; revitalization of the Lido/Balboa Penninsula; environmental preservation; and responsible infrastructure and land-use planning.

We have come to a point where the interests of our representatives are clearly not aligned with those of the residents. The City Council says, “It’s not broken, so why fix it?” while the residents are saying, “It’s time for a change.”

An unprecedented groundswell of frustration and discontent with the current city leadership’s decisions and practices has been growing. The November election provides an opportunity for voters to select four new council representatives.

This is a nonpartisan election. The issues relate to our quality of life and the city’s ability to sustain and provide services based on sound fiscal programs.

The new Civic Center is an example of city leaders gone wild. The project began with a residents’ initiative approving the building of a City Hall with $30 million to $60 million cash on hand. The project, despite repeated public objections, quickly got out of hand. The city said no problem and financed the larger project with a certificate of participation, which, unlike bonds, does not require a public vote. This saddled the city with more than $252 million in debt and onerous prepayment penalties. The city is still spending.

In addition, the city regularly invests considerable expense and effort, in the guise of citizen participation, in going through “advisory” processes that are neither consistent with environmental regulations nor administered with adequate disclosure and public process.

Residents jump eagerly to participate, only to learn that the city ignored what they had to say and decided on policies inconsistent with public input or interest. Measure Y and the Lido Village design guidelines are two examples.

Legal claims by individuals and groups against the city have grown, much to the distress of the residents who feel that they have exhausted the administrative process and that this is the only path for equitable relief. This is symptomatic of dysfunction in the city’s administrative process, which I am hopeful will be resolved with new leadership.

It is inexcusable that residents should have to repeatedly resort to formal organization and legal claims to preserve the character, safety and environmental quality of their neighborhoods.

There are seven districts in the city. While the city elects one representative from each district, each council representative is charged with representing the interests of the entire city.

The upcoming election represents an important opportunity to take our city successfully into the future, with leaders who are truly committed to the residents’ goals and values.

DENYS H. OBERMAN, CEO of a strategic advisory firm, has lived in Newport Beach for 25 years.