A new fire station in a new location is on the way to serve residents in the Lido area on the Balboa Peninsula, and not everyone is one board with the idea.
Newport Beach City Council voted 6-1 Tuesday to purchase the property at 2807 Newport Blvd., where a closed McDonald’s sits, for $4 million from MNG Newport Beach, LLC. The city plans to move the fire station currently located at 475 32nd St. to the new site. Mayor Kevin Muldoon dissented.
The existing fire station is more than 60 years old and is at the end of its useful life, Community Development Director Seimone Jurjis explained. It does not meet operational needs for equipment and is scheduled for replacement.
Councilwoman Diane Dixon, who represents the peninsula, noted that a visible 24/7 fire station in an area where the “post bar closing activity” is excessive should create a positive improvement.
“We are seeing an improvement on the peninsula,” referring to revitalization development projects, she said, and this will contribute to that effort.
“I want that to be a safe and clean and nuisance-free area,” Dixon said. “I think adding a fire station there will make tremendous progress in that area.”
Public safety is the number one priority, Dixon said.
Councilman Brad Avery agreed and called the new site “perfect.” It’s visible in a high-impact area, with both residents and visitors, Avery noted.
“We have to look at benefiting all residents and what’s the right decision,” for everyone, Avery said. “I think this is going to be really good for the Balboa (Peninsula) community and for our visitors.”
Muldoon said that while the response time and traffic impact are estimated to be about the same, he can’t justify it creating potential quality of life issues for the neighbors when redeveloping the current site would be adequate.
“The problem I have with this decision is I have residents who are coming to me who are concerned about a nuisance,” he commented.
A few of those residents spoke up during public comment. Neighbors were primarily concerned about the noise and lights the fire station would cause in their community.
Longtime Balboa Peninsula resident Dennis Halloran serves on the noise committee for the local homeowner’s association and opined that quality of life on the peninsula is a “constant battle.”
Placing “McFire station” next to $50 million worth of residences and business is not enhancing that, he added.
Halloran suggested the station stay put.
“If the city would show a little imagination, it would serve as a great site for the next 60 years,” Halloran said.
Out of the handful of residents who spoke, just one was on board with the idea.
George Schroeder, another longtime peninsula resident, said he tries to look at the “big picture.”
“We don’t make a public safety decision on people’s personal preference,” Schroeder said. “You have to look at the greater good.”
The current site doesn’t work anymore, he said. The new site is larger and it’s easier for the fire trucks to get in and out.
“Any time there is change, people always imagine their worst fears and not how things might actually work out,” Schroeder said.
Councilman Jeff Herdman, who lives less than a block from the Balboa Island fire station, said sirens are “basically a non-issue.” They simply don’t bother them, he added.
“(Respectfully), I think you’re worrying a little too much about a problem that probably won’t even exist,” Herdman said.
Newport Beach Fire Chief Chip Duncan tried to alleviate some of the residents’ concerns.
“The operative word for us is ‘neighbor,’” Duncan said.
Newport Beach Fire Department has a “long history” to only use the audible sirens only when needed (and sometimes when required by the vehicle code), he explained.
“We know we can be very loud and obnoxious with our sirens,” Duncan said, and they try to be sensitive to that.
They looked at how they would respond out of the new location, including using Balboa Boulevard when possible and utilizing control of the traffic lights, both of which would further diminish the need to use the audible siren.
The new location would work much better, Duncan said.
“We’ve outgrown that fire station on 32nd Street,” Duncan said.
It’s difficult and unsafe to back the truck in and out of the current station, he said.
The major challenge is that there is no “pull through” access and the fire truck have to back into the garage bay, which causes some problems because the crew has to go out into the street and stop traffic in order to back in.
Another problem is the lack of parking for the fire personnel, Jurjis added.
Because of all the difficulties with the current location, and since it was time for replacement, staff decided to see if there was another location in the community that would better suit their needs.
The former McDonald’s site was slated to be torn down and leased out, with a retail center planned for the property. City staff contacted the property owner and asked if they were interested in selling it.
The new site is about 52 percent bigger than the current property. With access to three streets it’s a “fantastic” property for the fire station, Jurjis said.
The biggest question was response time, Jurjis noted. They anticipate “very little” change in response time, he said.
There are a lot more possibilities with the new site for pull-through access and parking,
The new site works better in several ways for NBFD, Avery noted.
“It solves a number of very critical issues for the fire department,” Avery said.
Also during public comment, the $4 million price tag of the land brought up some questions. City watchdog Jim Mosher pointed out that the current owner, MNG Newport Beach, LLC, bought the property on June 14, 2016, for $1.97 million, according to the appraisal report.
Mosher wondered how the property would suddenly be worth double what it sold for just over one year ago. He also questioned the appraisal value.
Jurjis explained that the appraiser valued the property at $3.5 million, but with the deed restrictions (regarding future food services) the appraiser discounted that value to $2.6 million.
Another factor to consider is that the property wasn’t for sale, Jurjis pointed out. It was going to be leased out for a retail center. City staff made a cold call and asked if the owner was interested in selling the site.
“Staff negotiated this price because it wasn’t for sale at all,” Jurjis said.
Muldoon said “staff did a great job in negotiating this deal,” given the circumstances.
In addition to the land purchase, staff factored in construction, maintenance and other potential costs. The total cost to relocate the fire station to the new site is estimated at $11.6 million. Jurjis pointed out that the city can subtract the sale of the existing site for approximately $2.35 million from that figure. They could also offset the cost by generating revenue, approximately $100,000, from using the land as parking during the 18-month design process, Jurjis said.
The purchase of the land for about $4 million will be funded with $804,393.25 from the former Cultural and Arts Fund, $900,000 from the Building Excise Tax Fund, – both of which are from developer fees – and $2,305,606.75 from the Facilities Financial Planning Fund – a mix of general fund and developer fees.
It’s only the beginning of the process, Dixon pointed out. It will take a few years before it’s open and there will be plenty of public hearings during that time period, as well as noise and nuisance studies.
It will be collaborative, she emphasized.