I will be as brief and to the point as possible on the proposed new
Newport Beach civic center complex.
1. The cost: At $643 per square foot, it is about two times the
per-square-foot cost of what both Mission Viejo in 2002 and Rancho
Santa Margarita in 2004 spent on their city hall complexes. That is
not a Taj Mahal, but is it justified?
2. Financing to justify risk: The financing meeting (which I
attended about two weeks ago) with the City Council had a finance
manager announcing that with the certificates of participation
financing the city has chosen, if a tsunami comes through and makes
the facilities unusable, the city can just walk away from the lease
with no more payments. The finance manager seemed to be proud of this
concept. (It is on the tape of the meeting.)
Given Katrina and similar storms (including Linda in 1997 near
Southern California), how could our city government survive being
only five feet above high tide in such a scenario? Why would any
thoughtful leader put a new and expensive city hall built to be used
for the next 50 or more years in harm's way, where even the bridge
and road access may be damaged?
That attitude is strangely similar to New Orleans. What disaster
plan would exist to move the entire operation to what other location.
Where and when do you plan it? How about we plan now?
3. Disasters: Conventional wisdom is Southern California does not
get hurricanes, right? Are you sure? Are our leaders in City Hall
sure? What do we do if we find out we are wrong?
A large storm damaged a nearly empty San Diego harbor just over
100 years ago. El Nino spawned a storm with 185 mph winds that headed
for Southern California in 1997. Disaster preparedness officials held
their breath as the storm veered out to sea, away from California, so
we did not have to evacuate.
Will the next big El Nino spawn a storm that floods Newport Beach,
and do we want our city even more vulnerable by washing out city hall
(however intriguing that might sound at the moment)?
After all the flooding events in September 2005, is anyone in
their right mind going to tell some Newport Beach city leaders that
they have rocks in their heads or that they are wearing no clothes?
By my count there are 10 big question marks above that the City
Council needs to answer, directly to the voters and residents who
will rely on city hall to help survive and to direct services in any
potential future disaster in Newport Beach.
* BURRELL CLAWSON is a resident of Balboa Island.