At the first forum that every single Newport Beach City Council candidate attended, there were laughs, applause and some serious moments.
The Corona del Mar Residents Association hosted the candidates at the Oasis Center on Monday.
All eight candidates attended, a first for the local 2016 campaign season: Brad Avery and Shelley Henderson for District 2; Mike Glenn, Jeff Herdman, and Lee Lowrey for District 5; and Fred Ameri, Phil Greer, and Will O’Neill for District 7.
CdMRA President Laura Curran and CdM High School students moderated the forum.
Several of the topics were familiar – traffic, development, unfunded pension liability, short-term rentals, art and culture in the city, general plan – but a few provided a personal insight to each of the candidates.
During one portion of the forum, several questions that were written down beforehand were pulled randomly out of a bag. They were mostly lighthearted and revealing: Favorite CdM restaurant (O’Neill’s is Pirozzi), most romantic spot in CdM (Greer likes Rothschild’s and Herdman prefers China Cove), best retail (Ameri shops at Ace), favorite CdM coffee spot (Lowrey heads to Starbucks for his caffeine), favorite park in CdM and why (Henderson visits CdM State Beach), go-to staffer at city hall (Glenn takes his questions to city clerk Leilani Brown), and which below director city staff person they know and admire (Avery enjoys working with the dedicated and knowledgeable Harbor Resources Manager Chris Miller).
Focusing on Corona del Mar’s history and highlights of the community during another portion of the forum, Curran asked the candidates and the audience a series or questions, including when and why CdM joined the city of Newport Beach, what year the CdM library was built, what day the CdM farmer’s market is open and who is the famous artist whose studio was in CdM.
Only O’Neill and one person in the audience got all nine questions correct. Herdman, Greer, Ameri and Avery got six or more correct.
During a yes/no paddle question period, all eight candidates supported the idea of video recording city commission or committee meetings (Planning and Harbor commissions and the Finance Committee were given as examples) and the concept of a dog beach at the mouth of the Santa Ana River.
The candidates were split on the issue of allowing nonprofit groups to rent city meeting rooms, which the current City Council discussed and continued during a meeting on Tuesday.
Candidates also answered questions specific to Corona del Mar, focusing a bit on the business environment in CdM.
If there are vacant businesses, the city should take an aggressive role to draw new businesses in, Henderson commented.
Regarding how to bring in retail stores, O’Neill isn’t sure how exactly that could be accomplished and would refer to the experts for advice. Although, Corona del Mar clearly does not need more banks, he joked. The aim should be to help small business thrive, O’Neill concluded.
“The city staff, their role is to make sure to make sure there is a great quality of life in Corona del Mar,” Henderson said.
Candidates were also queried about the suggested Corona del Mar Bypass Plan – diverting traffic around CdM using Newport Coast Drive and San Joaquin Hills Road.
It is a “terrific idea,” Herdman commented.
“However, there are two sides to each coin,” he continued. There could be adverse affects on the local CdM business owners, he added.
“The bypass would affect Newport Coast, as you can imagine,” O’Neill added. “Anytime you affect traffic in one area it’s going to affect traffic in the rest of the city.”
There would be a number of groups and stakeholders to work with and collect feedback from if the city considers the bypass plan, O’Neill added.
It’s doubtful that removing the toll road fee at Bison Avenue would actually happen, considering the Toll Roads financial disarray they are currently working through, Lowrey opined.
On a few city-wide topics, the audience often reacted with applause or laughter.
The Museum House is an abomination, Greer said, eliciting some applause from the audience, as he answered a question about development and the general plan.
The general plan should not be “spot amended,” he noted.
“The general plan is to be followed, the general plan is to be respected,” Greer said, “and we’re not doing that.”
The audience laughed a bit when Curran asked a question about the proposed 150 Newport Center increasing the “walkability” as a benefit of the mixed-use development project.
More small businesses and stop lights would make Newport Center more “walkable” and interesting for pedestrians, Avery answered.
“But I don’t think that was ever the original intent of Newport Center,” Avery commented. “You need more than just tall condos to make that happen.”
A comprehensive study would need to be done before anything else, he added.
The crowd also murmured when the topic of six lanes through Mariners’ Mile was brought up.
Rather than increasing that stretch of Coast Highway, Ameri would consider removing a lane and widening the sidewalk, and making it into an area where people can park (possibly with a partially underground parking structure) and walk around, Ameri said.
There are some good elements in the Mariners’ Mile plans so far, Ameri said, but none of it works all together.
“I have a whole new concept in mind,” Ameri noted.
Regarding Banning Ranch and ex parte communications, Henderson and Greer disagreed. Henderson, who supported the project and some development in the area, feels ex parte communications are “ok.” Greer, on the other hand, commented that ex parte communications are “bad,” they are disapproved in court, unproductive and do not provide transparency, he explained.
“We have to have transparency. We have to know what’s going on. We have to know who is representing various interests. We have to know what those relationships are with various people,” Greer said. “Without that type of transparency, we’re not going to have a positive result.”
Following up on the Banning Ranch issue, Glenn commented that the area is “gross” and “dangerous.” They shouldn’t want more of that, he said. Although, there are protected species there, steps have already been taken to protect them, Glenn said.
The offer to save 80 percent of the land as open is “pretty good,” Glenn said.
The forum kicked off with a few key questions, including how long has each candidate lived in the city and their district, and important projects in each district.
Repairing and replacing the Balboa Island sea wall, infrastructure, and protecting the beaches, are some current issues of importance, said Herdman, a 62-year district 5 and city resident.
Lowrey has lived in Newport Beach for about 18 years and in district 5 for about seven months. He agreed about the sea walls and harbor, and added that the airport is on his priority list.
Agreeing with the previously mentioned topics and adding controlling taxes and property values as important issues, Glenn said he has lived in the city of Newport Beach for 12 years.
Avery, a 47-year city resident, mentioned the protecting harbor as a top priority and noted that he has lived in district 2 for 30 years.
Also in district 2, Henderson said she has lived in the neighborhood for about three years. She expressed concern about crime at an apartment complex in her district and said that would be an issue she would like to tackle.
Ameri has lived in Orange County for 55 years, with many of those years in Newport Beach, and in district 7 for the past 19 years. Considering the whole city, he agreed with the other candidates about the sea walls and infrastructure.
Adding to the topics of concern, O’Neill mentioned the repaving of Newport Coast Drive, the fire department “sub standard” response rate for the area near Crystal Cove and the sewer system. O’Neill has lived in district 7 for about three years.
Greer, who has lived district 7 for about 22 years, agreed with all the issues the other candidates listed and added the renovating of Coast Highway.