Newport Beach City Council hopefuls shared some laughs during a forum Wednesday night but got serious over issues related to West Newport Beach, including sea walls, a plan for a community center and beach fire rings.
The six City Council candidates who attended the West Newport Beach Assn.-sponsored forum at Marina Park tackled questions related to both citywide issues and specific challenges facing the west side of the city.
Three of the City Council’s seven seats are up for grabs on Nov. 8.
Harbor Commissioner Brad Avery and law student Shelley Henderson are running for the District 2 seat, which represents Newport Heights and Newport Crest. The district’s current council member, Tony Petros, is not running for reelection. Henderson did not attend the forum.
Businessman and community activist Mike Glenn, businessman Lee Lowrey and retired educator Jeff Herdman are vying for the District 5 seat, which represents Balboa Island, Harbor Island, the Fashion Island area and a portion of Big Canyon. Councilman Ed Selich, who currently represents District 5, is termed out this year. Lowrey did not attend the forum.
Attorney and city Finance Committee member Will O’Neill, attorney Phil Greer and former Planning Commissioner Fred Ameri are running for the District 7 seat, which represents Newport Coast and Newport Ridge. Councilman Keith Curry, who currently represents the area, also is termed out this year.
West Newport Beach Assn. President George Schroeder added a lighthearted element to the forum by allowing candidates to ask another candidate from their district a question of their choice.
Herdman asked Glenn where he got his “save dog beach” hats made. Glenn, a strong advocate of the de-facto dog beach between Newport and Huntington beaches, said he made the hats himself.
“They’re 20 bucks each if you want to contribute to my campaign,” he told Herdman as members of the audience chuckled.
The panel turned serious when Ameri asked O’Neill if he supported the lawsuit that was filed against him this month questioning the legality of him using “Fred” instead of his legal name on the ballot. The crowd of about 50 people fell silent.
O’Neill said he repudiates any attempt to use race or national origin as a means of negative campaigning.
“I have nothing to do with that lawsuit,” O’Neill said. “If asked, I would have said not to file that lawsuit and I will tell you that it bothers me. I have always called you Fred and I will continue to call you Fred.”
The candidates found common ground on many civic issues discussed at the forum. However, they sometimes differed when asked how they would execute their ideas.
All the candidates said they would support the creation of a community center to serve the West Newport area. The necessity of building a center in the area has been hotly debated between community members and some on the City Council in recent years.
“This area has been ignored quite a bit in the last few years and we need to do something like we’ve done in other areas of the city,” Ameri said.
Glenn said he would support a community center that is funded through private enterprise. Avery said a new community center should be funded through development fees, private giving and perhaps a public-private partnership.
The candidates also agreed that the city should be responsible for the cost of repairing or replacing the aging sea walls around Newport Harbor. City officials have said repairing the walls will likely cost the city millions.
“If the walls are owned by the city, the city should be responsible for the repairs and replacement,” Herdman said. “Fortunately, our current council has recognized they own the walls on [Balboa] Island and several areas of the harbor.”
While the candidates agreed on several issues, they bumped heads over the success of the city’s current plan for beach fire rings, which has a mixture of charcoal and wood-burning rings near the Balboa Pier and in Corona del Mar.
Herdman said he supports the plan, but was concerned about the issues surrounding supervision and enforcement. O’Neill and Avery also said they’re in favor of the city’s current plan. Glenn said the rules surrounding fire rings should be loosened and the footprint should revert back to its historical area.
Greer said he’s in favor of expanding the allowable fire ring area.
“The taking of the fire rings has been a complete disservice to the community,” Greer said.