Advocating for Newport’s Quality of Life

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Whether you grew up in this town or have lately arrived, it is heart-lifting each time you drive down Newport Boulevard, Jamboree or MacArthur and catch that first glimpse of the Pacific. Newport Beach is a great town to live in.

Keeping it that way is the responsibility of our elected city officials and city staff. With it comes the continuing challenge of balancing growth with Newport’s unique sense of place.

The City Council’s pending amendment to the General Land Use Plan to accommodate various developments around town has roused many residents.

Some believe that the council is showing a demonstrable lack of interest in maintaining a healthy balance between its residents’ quality of life and real estate developers’ quantity of profit.

This is a concern that has arisen many times over the years. Lido Isle resident Nora Lehman recalls that when waterfront condominium towers began sprouting on Lido Peninsula several decades ago, residents successfully fought the trend.

“We didn’t want the area to become the Miami Beach of the West,” she said in a telephone interview on July 1.

In 1974 Jean Watt founded SPON (Stop Polluting Our Newport) to advocate for better water quality in the city’s bays. In 2000 Watt was a force behind the successful Greenlight Initiative, which mandates that the city must submit to a public vote any substantial development proposals (which is why the current City Council must decide whether to put the pending amendment to the Land Use Plan on November’s ballot).

SPON now stands for Still Protecting Our Newport. In 2013 Jean Watt was named Newport’s Citizen of the Year.

Newport Crest resident Dorothy Kraus has come lately to this Newport tradition of advocacy. After Kraus retired as a senior project manager in the healthcare industry in 2011, she became aware of the proposed development of the Banning Ranch in West Newport.

“I was very disappointed in the City Council when they unanimously approved the [project’s] EIR in July 2012, with all of its serious and unavoidable environmental and quality of life impacts,” she told me.

Kraus began attending local meetings of like-minded organizations; she joined the Banning Ranch Conservancy, whose objective is to leave the entire ranch as open space; and she attended SPON’s meetings, where she learned of other projects around town.

“The General Plan amendment surfaced last year, and we launched this campaign to outreach and raise awareness,” she said.

When we spoke on the phone, Kraus was at Westcliff Plaza to solicit signatures on a petition to present to the City Council. As of July 1, 1,400 signatures had been gathered.

“Surprisingly, many people we spoke with have become aware of the proposed General Plan amendment through our media campaign … and SPON’s relaunched website,” she reported, “and happily signed the petition!”

But Lehman thinks that as Newport Beach has grown, people have become too busy to follow the City Council’s decisions.

“What must community members do,” she asks, “to impress upon our council that real estate developers don’t have the only voice in town?”

Well, we could join the tradition of residents like Dorothy Kraus, Nora Lehman and Jean Watt. Read up on the issue at spon-newportbeach.org and express yourself to your city councilperson. Then mark your calendar for 7 p.m., on Tuesday, July 8. That’s when the City Council decides on whether to put its proposed amendment to the General Land Use Plan on the November ballot.

Why give up a summer Tuesday evening? Because people like Kraus and Lehman, and likely Watt, will be there; they deserve the support of others who care as they do about preserving Newport’s quality of life.

Besides, should these proposed projects prevail, many residents argue that we’re likely to get a longer look at those heart-lifting views of the Pacific while we sit in gridlock.

The writer is the President of the Newport Beach Democratic Women’s Club. Contact her at [email protected]

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