Newport Beach residents may or may not have noticed, but the statue of Ronald Reagan has moved.
The sculpture of the former U.S. president, which has been in Bonita Canyon Sports Park for several years, is now placed on the grassy corner of Avocado Avenue and San Miguel Drive in the Civic Center Park, next to the circle of small white rabbits known as “bunnyhenge.”
City Council asked earlier in the year for the Reagan statue to be considered as the 10th piece in the third phase of the sculpture exhibition in the park.
Although the other nine pieces in the current phase of the exhibition were just approved by City Council on Tuesday, the Reagan statue has been installed for about two weeks.
The other sculptures were discussed at length and voted on numerous times during the selection process in order to whittle about 50 down to nine.
It’s been a quiet, and slightly unusual, relocation process for the Reagan statue, a stark contrast to how it was originally installed six years ago.
The statue, created by local artist Miriam Baker, was meant to commemorate the president’s centennial.
Then-Councilman Keith Curry originally brought the idea up to honor The Gipper. He first suggested renaming a park after Reagan, but after drawing a negative reaction from the community he proposed a statue instead.
A contentious debate erupted about the statue before it was eventually approved by then-City Council in 2011.
The new city hall (under construction at the time) was considered as a location for placement of the sculpture, as well as Castaways Park, but both sites drew criticism and protests from the community. Officials finally settled on Bonita Canyon Sports Park.
Over the years it was vandalized and knocked or torn down, prompting authorities to place lights and a camera around the controversial sculpture.
There wasn’t much discussion or debate about Ronnie after that, until earlier this year. But even that wasn’t much more than a brief mention and inclusion with the sculpture exhibition.
During the April 11 City Council meeting Mayor Kevin Muldoon asked that the relocation of the Reagan statue be placed as an item on a future agenda.
Later in the same April 11 meeting, during Council discussion on the third phase for the sculpture garden in the Civic Center Park and after public comment had already closed on the item, Councilman Scott Peotter asked to include the presidential statue in the exhibition. His suggestion was included in the motion and council majority voted in support.
At their next meeting on April 25, City Attorney Aaron Harp explained that it was “entirely appropriate” for Council to direct the consultant overseeing the sculpture garden exhibit to take the Reagan statue “into consideration” as one of the pieces.
Harp clarified in an email this week that the City Council decided at the April 11 meeting to alter the scope of work so that it included nine sculptures instead of 10, which at the time when they are approving an agreement, is always appropriate.
During the same April 25 meeting, it was listed as a matter that a council member would like placed on a future agenda, but Muldoon considered it “moot” since it was being included with the sculpture garden exhibition and the item was dropped. During the general public comment period, a few citizens spoke publicly against the move.
The following month, the statue was on the May 11 agenda for the City Arts Commission. But it was tabled without discussion. Commissioners had questions about the funding source for the entire project, Library Services Director Tim Hetherton explained as the reason in an email this week.
On July 13, Reagan was again on the Commission’s agenda, but as an item to create an ad hoc committee. Resident Jim Mosher commented at the time that the sparse crowd at the meeting did not accurately portray the public’s interest in the statue. There were no other comments or discussion about the actual statue or its relocation.
The ad hoc committee was formed, but never met or discussed possible locations for the statue, Hetherton confirmed this week. The committee was sunsetted without a report on Aug. 10.
The Reagan statue was not brought up during the Arts Commission’s or selection panel’s discussions about the other sculptures being considered for the Civic Center Park exhibition.
Now, on Tuesday, in the staff report for the Civic Center Park sculpture exhibition, it’s mentioned that the statue is already in place. In an email after the meeting, Hetherton confirmed that the Reagan statue was installed in the Civic Center Park on Sept. 13.
It had been installed before the other nine sculptures were approved Tuesday.
Mosher brought this point up during the Council meeting. He thought there would be some discussion on the relocation, he commented.
“Even more surprising than that, the staff report tonight tells us that Ronnie magically moved… without any public input or discussion that had been promised,” Mosher said.
The process of the relocation has “stunk” since the beginning, Mosher said. There was no transparency, he notes in his written comments to Council.
Claiming there was no opportunity for public input was simply “not the case,” Harp said Tuesday.
It went to the Arts Commission “several times” and they formed an ad hoc committee, Harp noted. He clarified in an email after the meeting that the public did have an opportunity to comment on the Regan statue because it was listed in relation to agenda items during Arts Commission meetings on May 11 (listed for discussion, but tabled) and July 13 (to form the ad hoc committee).
Muldoon explained in an email that he hasn’t received much feedback on the issue. He reiterated Harp’s points about opportunities for public comment and pointed out that Council asked about relocating it in April.
After some time and hearing no recommendation from the Arts Commission, Muldoon inquired about the statue.
“Several months had passed and the statue still wasn’t relocated, so I called the city manager’s office to check on the status of Council’s directive,” he explained in an email this week.
Harp also confirmed this week that the city complied with all of the legal requirements related to the movement of the sculpture.