The Corona del Mar Chamber of Commerce held its annual Meet the Mayor luncheon on Tuesday, January 15, at Five Crowns Restaurant.
During the luncheon, more than 50 business and community leaders listened to Newport Beach Mayor Keith Curry deliver his State of the City speech.
Curry, who was mayor in 2010, praised City Council members Mike Henn and Nancy Gardner – his two predecessors – for their leadership during tough economic times.
“I am very pleased to report to you that our city is financially strong, economically vibrant, and united in its efforts to move forward,” he said. “In 2010, we were commencing the painful process of addressing the impacts of the recession. The city council adopted a fiscal sustainability policy to guide our efforts, and now three years later, we can look back and evaluate the success of our strategy.”
Curry noted that since 2008, the city has reduced its workforce by 84 positions, or 10 percent, which he said was a level that had not been seen since 2002.
“In 2007, our employees contributed zero to their pensions. All costs were paid by the city,” he said. Now, many city employees are contributing up to half of the costs of their pensions, which Curry said is a real sacrifice on the part of the employees.
“And, unlike some neighboring cities, we made a decision to not use our reserve funds to balance the budget,” said Curry. “As a result, we added to our reserves, and finished each of the three previous years with a budget surplus. Our reserves are now more than $100 million, which is more than in the entire 107 year history of our city. We did that during the recession.”
Curry praised the city’s efforts to work on dredging, and the library expansion and Civic Center project.
“It’s a stunning complex,” said Curry of the new civic center. “It’s the fifth largest park in the city, it has a 17,000 square foot expansion of the library, parking, a community room, emergency preparedness room, and a new city hall.”
Curry countered critics of the new civic center – whom he said often refer to it as a Taj Mahal – by listing its attributes.
“It’s actually six projects in one. Take the expansion of the library. Next to the beach, our library is the post popular attraction in the city. More than one million people come to the library during the course of the year–half of them from outside the city.”
“The park will be very special,” added Curry. “You can bring your dog, wander across the park, enjoy art, natural scenery, and one of the best views of the harbor.”
Curry said the city offices will move into the civic center next month, but the grand opening celebration for the community will take place in May.
Among the topics Curry said would be a priority during his tenure as mayor are bicycle safety, traffic signal synchronization, and plans to outsource the city’s trash collection and jail.
Like any city, said Curry, Newport Beach has areas that need help.
“We have begun community revitalization areas in Balboa Village, Corona del Mar, and Mariners Mile, but the centerpiece is the reuse of the old city hall site,” he said. “At the last city council meeting, we authorized accepting proposals from six firms: three proposing to build hotels, and three to build housing on that site.”
In addressing crime in Newport Beach, Curry cited statistics that showed crime in the city is at a 40 year low, although he added that it is not down in adjoining cities, and that criminals come to Newport Beach because “that’s where the stuff is that’s worth stealing.”
Curry ended his speech by saying that “Newport Beach is a rich and generous community, and we need to leave a legacy for our children. As I said in 2010, the best days of our community are not behind us.”
After the event, Curry said the speech was excerpted from a longer speech he plans to present at the Mayor’s Dinner, sponsored by Speak Up Newport, scheduled for Feb. 8 at the Newport Beach Marriott hotel.
Amy Senk of Corona del Mar Today contributed to this article.