2016 in review: Development disputes at center stage in Newport Beach in 2016

In Newport Beach, 2016 was the year of development — and the fights against it.

The most hotly contested proposals — the Banning Ranch residential and commercial project in West Newport and the Museum House condominium tower in Newport Center — became centerpieces of public discourse.

And there were other matters of much note, including the November election, the unofficial “dog beach” and Balboa Island’s 100th anniversary.

Here are some of Newport Beach’s top stories of 2016, in chronological order:

‘Dog beach’ gets politicians’ attention

A sand bar at the mouth of the Santa Ana River got a lot of attention in the past year.

The city conducted an online survey early this year on whether Newport Beach residents wanted city officials to enforce Orange County leash laws on a stretch of county-controlled sand between Newport Beach and Huntington Beach. Many dog owners let their pets run off leash to play and swim there.

A majority of respondents asked the city to leave the area alone, and Newport’s parks commission in March rejected a proposal for the city to enter an agreement with the county that would allow Newport Beach police to enforce leash and dog-waste laws there. The panel then suggested making the area an official dog beach.

In April, the Orange County Board of Supervisors began making the area an official off-leash parcel.

In May, however, the effort to make it an official dog beach was halted indefinitely over concerns that unleashed dogs could harm at-risk bird species.

Police Department gets new chief

Jon Lewis, a 25-year veteran of the Newport Beach police force, took the reins of the department in March after being sworn in as the city’s 10th police chief.

City Manager Dave Kiff chose Lewis, a former deputy chief, to take over for retired Chief Jay Johnson.

Lewis began working part time at the Newport Beach Police Department in 1991 while attending Cal State Long Beach, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice. Lewis also holds a master’s degree in criminal justice from Chapman University in Orange.

In 1996, Lewis joined the Newport department full time as an officer and steadily rose through the ranks. He was promoted to deputy chief in 2014.

8-year-old boy killed by trash truck

In May, an 8-year-old Newport Beach boy was killed by a trash truck while riding his bike home. Brock McCann was a third-grader at Newport Heights Elementary School and was known by nicknames including “Broccoli” and “Brocky boy.”

“As tiny as he was, he could fill this whole house with his belly laugh,” said his mother, Bernadette.

In June, the City Council began looking at ways to improve bicyclist and pedestrian safety around Newport Heights Elementary, Ensign Intermediate School and Newport Harbor High School.

Mariners’ Mile targeted for revitalization

In May, the City Council approved a contract with Santa Ana-based PlaceWorks, a community planning consulting firm, to study land use along Mariners’ Mile, a mile-and-a-half stretch of West Coast Highway between Newport Boulevard and Dover Drive.

“The problem with Mariners’ Mile right now is there’s a complete lack of certainty about what’s going on there,” Councilman Tony Petros said.

In July, the city hosted a brainstorming session about the plan. Some suggested building pedestrian bridges across West Coast Highway and a boardwalk along the harbor’s edge.

Woman attacked by shark off CdM

A Corona woman was attacked by a shark in May while swimming off Corona del Mar State Beach.

One expert said the type of shark that bit her could have been an adult great white. Beaches were temporarily closed after the incident.

In late July, Newport Beach became the first Orange County city to have a shark page on its website. The page is dedicated to logging sightings of sharks and other marine animals. It also has information about how to be safe in the water.

Balboa Island celebrates 100 years

Balboa Island celebrated its 100th anniversary with a party in June.

The once uninhabited muddy sandbar in Newport Harbor was incorporated into the city in 1916.

The island has roots to 1906, when developer William Collins dredged a channel, then piled the dredged sand and silt on a mud flat until an island was formed.

“There’s something about it that when you go over the bridge, you’re here, you’re satisfied,” said island resident Romona Merle.

Statue of late lifeguard unveiled

In July, exactly two years after Newport Beach lifeguard Ben Carlson died while trying to rescue a distressed swimmer, thousands packed McFadden Square to see the unveiling of his memorial statue. The work is made of marine-grade stainless steel.

“Our family believes we will see Ben again someday. But until then, having this statue that we can all visit and remember him by lifts our spirits and means the world to us,” said Carlson’s sister Stephanie Janz.

Banning Ranch saga continues with denial and lawsuit

The debate over building homes and commercial areas on Banning Ranch took center stage in September, when the California Coastal Commission denied the project after about nine hours of discussion. One commissioner cited a lack of cohesion between the developer and commission staff.

“This is a project we have to get right,” Commissioner Mary Shallenberger said. “We can’t get just good enough on this one.”

The developer, Newport Banning Ranch LLC, sued in November to challenge the denial and seek damages of at least $490 million.

It had wanted to build 895 homes, a 75-room hotel, a 20-bed hostel and 45,100 square feet of retail space on 62 of Banning Ranch’s 401 acres.

Balboa Theater could see new life

The City Council voted in October to sell the Balboa Theater to Costa Mesa-based developer Lab Holding LLC.

Shaheen Sadeghi’s company said it could spend an estimated $2 million to restore the Balboa Peninsula venue to its original architecture, which could reflect 1920s wrought-iron style. It likely would not show films but could have a cafe and live music.

“While many of these buildings are simple representations of our culture ... they really do have tremendous opportunity,” Sadeghi said. “The history and the story behind these buildings has a lot of value.”

Changing of the guard on City Council

In November, voters elected Harbor Commissioner Brad Avery, retired educator Jeff Herdman and Finance Committee member Will O’Neill to the City Council.

The trio entered as council members Ed Selich, Keith Curry and Tony Petros left. Curry and Selich were termed out; Petros decided not to run for reelection.

Voters also approved Measure MM, also known as the Taxpayer Protection Act. It requires at least five votes on the seven-member council to place a council-sponsored general or special tax proposal on the ballot.

In December, after Avery, Herdman and O’Neill were sworn in, Kevin Muldoon was selected as the new mayor, with Marshall “Duffy” Duffield as mayor pro tem.

Muldoon called the city’s unfunded pension liability — which he estimated at more than $300 million — its “most pressing issue.”

Battle over Museum House takes twists and turns

December 2016 may forever be known for a series of events surrounding Museum House, a 25-story, 100-unit condominium tower proposed for Newport Center.

The saga began in late November, when the City Council gave its first of two approvals for the project, planned for 850 San Clemente Drive. The tower is slated to replace the Orange County Museum of Art, which wants to move to Costa Mesa.

Soon after the council’s approval, local activist group Line in the Sand vowed to collect thousands of petition signatures in an effort to bring the project to a public vote.

On Dec. 1, a Santa Ana-based nonprofit, Citizens Against High Rise Urban Towers, alleged that the council didn’t have adequate confirmation from the Federal Aviation Administration that the tower and aircraft using a nearby police helipad would not pose a threat to each other. City officials dismissed the claim.

Museum House opponents and its developer, Related California, exchanged a series of allegations of misrepresentations and ethics violations.

On Dec. 9, the Irvine Co. sued Related California, alleging that its hired hands challenging Line in the Sand’s referendum campaign were, in effect, trespassing on Irvine Co. properties because they hadn’t registered to be there and were creating a “hostile environment” for shoppers.

On Dec. 20, an executive with Related California alleged that Line in the Sand’s petition didn’t comply with state elections code, partially because its font was too small to read.

The activist group said it had to print the pages in small type because of the more than 1,000 pages of documents required to be attached.

On Dec. 21, Line in the Sand turned in 13,730 signatures to the city clerk’s office. The signatures are now in the hands of the county registrar of voters office, which will verify them. If roughly 5,800 are verified, the matter will return to the council, which could put Museum House up for a citywide vote in a special election or at the next general election in 2018. The council also could rescind its approval of the project.

Staff writer Hannah Fry contributed to this report.

Twitter: @BradleyZint