Although a city panel this week unanimously denied the request to rename Balboa Island Park after the late resident and community leader Ralph Rodheim, locals behind the effort said they plan to appeal the decision.
The Newport Beach Parks, Beaches and Recreation Commission voted 7-0 Tuesday to deny the renaming effort. They opted to follow City Council policy B-9, which includes “suggestions” that parks be named after bordering streets or schools, topography, theme, or common names already in place for the area. Naming new or existing parks after “renowned citizens of the community” was removed from the policy in 2003.
Balboa Island resident Larry Kallestad is heading up the community effort to rename the park after Rodheim, who died in February after fighting amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease). After the vote concluded on Tuesday Kallestad said that the endeavor isn’t over.
“Yes… We’ll do that,” Kallestad confirmed confidently, referring to an attempt to appeal to the Newport Beach City Council. “They’re the ones that have the final yes or no and it would be silly to not give them the opportunity.”
The “bottom line” is that the policy is only a suggestion and can be waived by the City Council, he pointed out after the meeting.
He knew that the commission denying the request was a possible outcome.
“I knew that the policy situation was the biggest hurdle that we had to overcome,” Kallestad said. “I’m disappointed, but it’s not a crushing blow.”
Kallestad emphasized that the renaming would only include the park, not the nearby Carol Beek Community Center.
He is unsure of the timeline of when they might approach Council, but it will be in the near future.
Council members are aware of the effort since Councilman Jeff Herdman brought forward the idea of renaming the park after Rodheim “at the behest of the Island folks” during the April 25 Council meeting. Understanding it had to go through the proper council policy process, he asked the PB&R Commission to review it.
“I understand that the Commission chose to not vary from Council Policy and I certainly respect that decision,” Herdman wrote in an email on Wednesday.
The citizens working on the project certainly have the right to appeal, he added.
At that same April 25 meeting, City Council waived policy B-9 — which includes language stating that naming parks or public facilities must be reviewed by the PB&R Commission — in order to quickly rename Ensign View Park after former resident and actor, John Wayne.
Mayor Kevin Muldoon led the charge and Council voted 5-2 in support of renaming the Cliff Drive park after the Duke. Council members Brad Avery and Diane Dixon dissented.
“For the sake of expediency, for the sake of the righteous cause that the John Wayne Cancer Foundation is… I decided to take this endeavor up,” Muldoon said.
Muldoon cited the work of the Foundation and its fundraising event in May as his reasons for pushing the item straight through to the Council and in order to “cut through a lot of the red tape.”
All the council members praised Wayne, but were split on whether or not to name a park after a person or whether the Council should be the first and only board to have input. Several pointed out that it should go through the proper process.
Parks, Beaches and Recreation commissioners also praised Rodheim during their meeting on Tuesday, but they decided to stick to policy.
“We have a mechanism to honor people like Mr. Rodheim… We have a system in place,” said Commissioner Tom Anderson. “We only have so many parks.”
Naming buildings or trees are allowed and more appropriate, he added.
Commissioner Roy Englebrecht wondered if they were to name parks after people, how do they choose and what is the criteria?
“This is a very slippery slope,” Englebrecht said.
This can set a precedent for more and more requests to name parks after people, commissioners agreed, which was one of the reasons it was removed from the policy in the first place.
In 2003, following several requests to name parks sites after individuals, the PB&R Commission voted on March 4 to revise policy B-9 and avoid naming parks after people in the future.
City Council reviewed the item during their May 13, 2003, meeting.
According to the 2003 Council staff report, the PB&R Commission felt that “the current policy allows for a precedent that the city could never really fulfill as there are many prominent citizens in this community deserving of recognition, both living and deceased.
The Commission believed that the city could never have enough naming opportunities to satisfy the requests that could be received once precedent is set and a park is named in honor of an individual. In addition, the Commission was concerned that this would place a greater value on one person’s contribution to the community over another.”
Some of the same concerns were echoed by current PB&R commissioners on Tuesday.
Newport Beach is a special place because there are so many people, like Rodheim, who contribute to the community, said Commissioner Heather Ignatin.
“I’d really like to find a way to honor him, while still adhering to our city policy,” Ignatin said.
There are more well deserving residents in Newport Beach than parks, Englebrecht added. It’s not the harbor or beaches that make Newport Beach unique, it’s the people, he noted.
Other commissioners, including Anderson, agreed with the sentiment.
“We’re an exceptional community because we have exceptional people that want to serve,” he said.
Several pointed out that Rodheim was at the top of the list of those exceptional people.
“The city of Newport Beach would not be the unique place that it is had he not devoted himself to making it better,” Kallestad said.
It’s amazing how much he did for the city, he added.
He joined, and often led, a number of local organizations. Rodheim was never a passive member of any group, Kallestad pointed out, he was frequently the driving force behind for achieving their goals, sometimes improving upon them. He was a true leader in the community.
“Ralph Rodheim did what he did always with the goal of making life experience better for the people,” Kallestad said, “lucky for us he was in Newport Beach.”
Kallestad mentioned “only some” of the projects Rodheim worked on that made “Newport Beach a better place to live.”
In 1988, he spearheaded getting an Olympic sized swimming pool at Corona del Mar High School.
The longtime local served as president of the Balboa Village Improvement District and initiated the first Chalk Art Festival and Cinco de Mayo Celebration activities in the village. Rodheim also revamped the Christmas tree lighting ceremony.
“He championed numerous activities to help the businesses within the village to flourish,” Kallestad wrote in the proposal.
He also served on the Balboa Island Improvement Association, the committee that established the first Orange County Marathon, member of the Chamber of Commerce Commodores Club, and volunteered for the Christmas Boat Parade. Rodheim also served on the State of California Boating and Waterways Commission.
Rodheim, a lifelong sailor, joined the Balboa Yacht Club and chaired a number of major events, including the Governor’s Cup race and Wooden Boat Festival.
He continued his work on the water through the Harbor Committee from 1999 until 2001, then appointed to the city’s newly formed Harbor Commission. Rodheim stayed on the Commission until 2013.
“He guided it and shepherded the initial standards for governing all aspects within the Newport Harbor waterways,” Kallestad explained.
In 2010, Rodheim earned the title of Newport Citizen of the Year by the Chamber of Commerce. Speak Up Newport awarded him the Sunshine Award in 2016.
Although the ALS made some things difficult physically, Kallestad said “his will to continue making it better here for us was unbelievable.”
His drive to stay active in the community resulted in the establishment of the classical music concerts at St. John Vianney Chapel on Balboa Island and the free summer pop concerts on Friday nights at Balboa Island Park.
“There probably will never be another person like Ralph Rodheim,” Kallestad said, choking up a bit, “but if someone like him does come along, hopefully they’ll be in Newport Beach and we will all benefit once again.”
And he did it all without seeking glory for himself, “he just did it for us,” Kallestad added.
“He did what he did because of his love for the community,” Kallestad said. “This was a person who did so much toward making Newport Beach one of the best places to live.”
About half of the approximately 30 people in the audience were attending the meeting with an interest in the park item. Attached to the PB&R staff report on the item was a list of about 100 residents who signed their endorsement of changing the name. A few supporters spoke during public comment on the item.
Balboa Island resident Lee Pearl, active in the community himself, said there is no one in the city who was quite like Rodheim.
“Everything he did was for the community,” every project he worked on was for the city, Pearl said. “He was always giving and looking to make Newport better.”
Jim Burns, a longtime neighbor of Rodheim on Balboa Island, said he was an important part of the city. Renaming the park after him for his “Herculean efforts” is a wonderful way to honor his memory, Burns said.
Rodheim was “without a doubt, a premier citizen of our community,” Englebrecht agreed.
“There is no doubt that we have unique citizens and Ralph was right at the top of the list,” Englebrecht said.
A bench, tree, or plant, doesn’t do him justice, he noted, they should get “creative” in this particular situation. He suggested building a statue, possibly in Balboa Island Park, if a group would fundraise and return with preliminary design renderings.
“It’s an option that I think has some merit,” Englebrecht said.
Kallestad liked the idea of a statue. He is confident they could raise the funds to design, build and install it, should it be allowed to be placed in the park.
Rodheim’s wife, Penny, said after the meeting that she understands the commission’s position. She likes Englebrecht’s idea of a statue or another type of public art, possibly a building or community room, in honor of her husband.
“I think that would be a nice idea,” she said. “I hope that we can come up with something.”
He loved working for the betterment of the community, Penny Rodheim said.
“That was his life,” she said. “He was all about community, having fun, enjoying life and giving back… It’s what he loved to do.”
Anyone interested in joining the effort or learning more can contact Larry Kallestad at P.O. Box 5544, Balboa Island, CA 92662.