(Editor’s Note: The article previously incorrectly listed Max Johnson and Jane Jones as candidates, they pulled papers but never filed. It was also incorrectly stated that Johnson was absent, however he did attend the forum.)
Most of the questions the Newport Beach City Council candidates were asked Wednesday night at a local forum were familiar – unfunded pension liability, current proposed projects, traffic – and several were light-hearted – ever played Pokémon Go or participated in a jazzercise class – but one caused the room to fall silent.
A segment during the West Newport Beach Association event allowed candidates to ask each other one question (video of this segment is available to view at newportbeachindy.com). Fred Ameri asked fellow District 7 candidate Will O’Neill if he supported a lawsuit filed by a resident against Ameri regarding using his nickname “Fred” rather than his given name “Farrokh” on the ballot.
Ameri was shaken as he asked the question.
“They’re your team,” an emotional Ameri said.
O’Neill responded that he nothing to do with the lawsuit. If anyone uses race or national origin negatively as an attack or an attempt to influence the race, he will repudiate it uncategorically, he said.
“It bothers me because I have always called you Fred, I will continue to call you Fred and I’ve always known you as Fred,” O’Neill said.
After the exchange the two shook hands. A judge ruled Thursday that Ameri go by Fred for the election.
The mood shifted as Brad Avery posed his question to his fellow District 2 candidate who was not in attendance, Shelley Henderson, “Where are you?” he asked.
Also unavailable to participate in the forum was Lee Lowrey for District 5.
Other candidates who were at the forum include Mike Glenn and Jeff Herdman for District 5; and Phil Greer for District 7.
Association President George Schroeder hosted the event
There were a few other light-hearted moments during the event, including when Schroeder asked the candidates a resident submitted question if City Manager Dave Kiff was the best city manager any city could ever hope to have, where Glenn got his “Save Dog Beach” caps, and if Ameri has any sand in the trunk of his Bentley.
Other topics discussed included small business license, art in the city, short term lodging, video recording the Planning Commission meetings, fire rings, and more. It also included a lightning round when the candidates could answer yes, no, maybe, and maybe not.
During opening statements, the candidates once again focused on a few key points: Biggest issues facing Newport Beach, ties and roots to the community, and personal experience.
Another topic of the evening was a question and short answer about eliminating the business license fee.
Most of the candidates opposed the idea, although several thought it should be flexible depending on the size of the business.
The revenue it generates is important for the city, Ameri noted. And there is no plan on how to replace that revenue, Herdman added.
The lost revenue can be made up in a variety of ways, said Glenn, the only candidate who supports the idea. There is plenty of fat to cut in Newport, he added.
“We should make it as easy as possible for our business owners,” Glenn said.
All candidates in attendance supported a community center for West Newport Beach.
The area has been ignored and neglected, agreed Ameri and Greer.
“I think the people of West Newport deserve it,” Herdman said.
Generally speaking, O’Neill supported the idea as well. The cost will need to be considered and it will take some creative thought, Avery agreed.
“The question is in the details,” O’Neill said.
Regarding traffic and adding lanes to the Mariners’ Mile stretch of PCH, they all opposed the idea to some extent.
“No matter how wide we build that it will wind up being congested anyway,” Glenn said.
Traffic has always been a problem, Greer added. There has to be a better way to deal with it, he added.
Adding lanes would hurt businesses and make that area too much like a freeway, Ameri commented. O’Neill said he would reach out to the experts about the issue.
Avery mentioned a community meeting he attended and noted that the residents strongly opposed adding lanes to Mariners’ Mile.