Council Approves City Budget, Debates Extra Police Officers

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city of Newport Beach
Newport Beach City Hall
— Photo by Sara Hall ©

Newport Beach City Council approved the upcoming fiscal year’s budget this week, but the majority of the discussion revolved an item — regarding possible additional police officers — that was ultimately not included and continued to the next meeting.

For the better part of more than an hour on Tuesday, Council members debated whether or not to add an item to the budget checklist for two additional officers for the Newport Beach Police Department.

Ultimately, Council members unanimously voted on the budget as proposed (minus a proposed OC River Park contribution) and supported a compromise proposal to return at the next meeting. Suggested by Councilman Kevin Muldoon, the item would include one officer added at the police chief’s discretion, once they fill the 147 staff positions already budgeted. That officer would be dedicated to patrol, not traffic enforcement.

Mayor Diane Dixon initially proposed adding the two officers to the budget, noting crime trends and police staffing compared to 2010, previous requests for officers from NBPD, and residents asking for extra enforcement.

So far in 2019, there have been 802 total property crimes, 845 total part one crimes, 43 violent crimes, and two homicides.

In 2018, there were 552 felonies and 2,887 misdemeanors committed in Newport Beach. Police made 3,439 arrests. Dixon shared a few other figures: 126 violent crimes, 237 residential burglaries, 811 theft or larceny, 693 burglaries or auto theft, 2,118 total property crimes and 2,244 part one crimes.

“These (reported crime) numbers represent all of you, residents in our community. This isn’t just data and statistics, these are our people, these are our residents, these are our constituents,” Dixon said.

Newport Beach Police Department officers patrolling the boardwalk during a previous year’s virtual ride-along.
— Photo courtesy Newport Beach Police Department

It’s unacceptable, she said, and there should be higher goals for public safety.

Police trends have changed over the years, including how they deal with the homeless and adjusting to certain state laws, Dixon noted.

“All of these external factors affecting the safety of our community,” and yet there are fewer on staff at the police department than a decade ago, Dixon said.

In 2010, the NBPD had 149 total employees on staff. After a recession and a drastic cut in that number, which then went slightly up and down over the last decade, the department staffing level is now at 147 (budgeted, but 146 actual at the start of the fiscal year).

In 2010-11 there were 25 full-time traffic personnel, in 2019-20 there are 13. Dixon questioned what happened to those positions, considering the growing community demand for more traffic safety and code enforcement.

Several Council members noted that residents have raised concerns about the need for additional enforcement in numerous areas of the city.

“We’re hearing from our residents continuously that we’re not adequately enforcing regulations that we have,” whether it’s traffic, boardwalk rules, short-term lodging regulations, and on the harbor, Councilwoman Joy Brenner noted.

They have heard two requests from the police department for additional traffic safety officers over the past two years, including recently at the Council Planning Session in February, Dixon noted.

At the Planning Session, Newport Beach Police Department Chief Jon Lewis suggested additional staffing to enhance traffic safety in the city. Police asked for two more full-time officers. It would enhance school safety efforts, increase traffic “hot spot” patrols, and augment enforcement of community quality of life concerns, Lewis explained at the time.

“We can’t ignore what is going on around us,” Dixon said.

She asked for support from her fellow Council members to add two more police officers to the budget, although there were mixed reactions on the dais.

Mayor Pro Tem Will O’Neill was the most vocal opponent, stating that over the past five years, crime trends, calls for service, and traffic collisions are all down, while the number of officers in training is up. Also, the department is still not at the maximum budgeted capacity, O’Neill pointed out.

Police blocked off a neighborhood after a helicopter crashed.
— Photo by Christopher Trela ©

“We do not have a staff report in front of us from anyone from the police department asking for more officers,” and the budget recommended by the city manager does not propose including the officers, O’Neill noted, and there are “good reasons” for that, he added.

Adding two positions when they haven’t even reached the maximum capacity of budgeted positions is a “tough nut to swallow” considering the approximate additional $300,000 in salary and benefits.

To go through the entire budget process and “at the last minute” add on two more budgeted positions is a “terrible” process, he commented.

After talking with the police chief about the issue, O’Neill learned that there was a reduction in crime citywide in 2018 and a “substantial decrease” in the calls for service on the Peninsula since 2015.

In Area one, which includes the peninsula, part one crime was actually down almost 21 percent over the last five-year average, he pointed out.

Other Council members were on the fence, making points on both sides of the issue.

Newport Beach is a safe city, the sky isn’t falling, commented Councilman Brad Avery. They have to consider statistics and what the residents are saying, Avery added, and somehow combine that with their fiduciary responsibility to make the difficult decisions.

“We want to do everything we can to provide the force that you (NBPD) require to enable you to get your staffing levels that you need for the community,” Avery said.

The rest of the budget was presented by Finance Director and City Treasurer Dan Matusiewicz. The budget has been reviewed and revised multiple times over the past several months.

“I’m happy to announce we’re in the home stretch of our budget,” Matusiewicz said.

Council reviewed the fiscal year 2019-20 proposed Capital Improvement Program budget on May 28 and, in a joint City Council and Finance Committee meeting, city officials reviewed the operating budget on May 14.

Capital improvement projects for the upcoming fiscal year in Newport Beach will focus on park rehabilitation and renovation, Newport Harbor maintenance, street improvements, and city facilities.

The budget is about blending high quality municipal services that residents expect, ensuring a safe and secure neighborhood, and keeping Newport Beach looking great, explained Finance Director Dan Matusiewicz. The ultimate goal is to maintain a prosperous, fiscally sustainable and economically viable city, he added.

The proposed budget for 2019-20 is about $400 million, including $303 million of operating budget expenditures and about $44 million for new Capital Improvement Program project appropriations.

“The budget is balanced,” Matusiewicz said. “It’s conservative and it emphasizes long term financial sustainability, and addresses a number of priorities that have been previously identified by the public, by Council, by Finance Committee, and the City Manager.”

Included on the proposed budget revisions related to personnel and operations was a contribution to OC River Park for video production of $10,000, which was removed in the final vote.

Council members agreed it was a worthwhile organization, but that the grant process would be more appropriate.

City Manager Grace Leung clarified that the item discussed at the Planning Session in February was $20,000 contribution for the master planning efforts, and it was added on to the CIP.

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