With the election looming next Tuesday, the most watched race in Newport Beach is the matchup between Rush Hill and Ed Reno for the 3rd District seat on the City Council being vacated by Don Webb, who is prevented from running again by term limits.
The campaign has been a spirited one, with longtime resident and civic activist Hill relying on his name recognition and goodwill around town and a $50,000 loan from himself to his campaign, and Reno relying on the backing of the local Republican Party leadership and positioning himself as an anti-spending candidate.
The two candidates agreed to answer our 10 Questions this week, and were interviewed by NB Indy Editor Roger Bloom. Note: They were interviewed separately, and were unaware of the other’s answers when they gave their own replies.
For more on the two candidates’ positions, as well as those of 4th District candidates Leslie Daigle and Mark Tabbert, see the video of the spirited and freewheeling “Feet to the Fire Forum” that is available on the city website, www.newportbeachca.gov, via the “NBTV” link at the right of the home page.
1. Why are you running, and why should people vote for you?
Hill: I am running for City Council for three primary reasons:
1. While serving as an advisor to Ronald Reagan, he instilled in me the responsibility of giving back to my community and the importance of a financially conservative philosophy. I have proved my desire to do this with 35 years of community service to date. Reagan also taught me governance is conducted by those that show up.
2. I believe my professional work experience as an architect, land planner, project manager and consultant to both government and the private sector on the matters of land utilization and balancing environmental concerns with responsible urban renewal provides important insight to many of the issues that Newport will face over the next four years.
3. The timing is right. I have been asked to run for City Council for years and now with the kids grown and out of the house and my consulting and architectural businesses well run, I believe I am the “Right Person at the Right Time.”
I ask for your vote based on my local knowledge and experience in dealing with our city government. I commit to serving a full four-year term and am not running for any other office, attempting to use the Newport Beach City Council as a stepping stone. To me, there is no higher office than serving the community that has been my home and place of work for the past 35 years.
Reno: I believe that Newport Beach is a very special place that people know all over the world. People come to Newport Beach to pursue their dreams and live their dreams – I know I did. My wife and I and our little boy live in Dover Shores and I want to serve on the council to ensure that Newport Beach continues to be a very special community with a great quality of life. I will focus on delivering high quality services in a fiscally responsible way always watching out for the taxpayer.
2. If elected, what would be your three top priorities for the four-year term?
Reno: My top three priorities are maintaining the John Wayne Airport settlement agreement, creating a business friendly city hall focused on encouraging entrepreneurs and businesses to come to Newport Beach and thus helping to ensure our local economy is strong, and protecting the taxpayer by asking tough questions on how the city spends taxpayer money.
Hill: I look forward to working with the other six Councilpersons on the following:
1. Extending the JWA Airport Settlement Agreement that expires in 2015 and continuing to work with the FAA on achieving acceptable departure paths for our community. Losing our city’s controls over JWA is the greatest threat to our quality of life and property values.
2. Continuing to deliver high-quality municipal service while achieving a balanced city operational budget without tapping reserves or raising taxes to cover operational, employee benefit or capital cost.
3. Achieving a competitive, fully funded wage and benefit program for all city employees by identifying funding for existing liabilities while reeling in the unsustainable future benefit programs. This economic downturn is the time to correct past decisions for benefit programs which, if not changed for present and future employees, could eventually bankrupt the city.
3. What would you like to see in a new John Wayne Airport settlement agreement, and how could you bring it about?
Hill: Except for the curfew, which expires in 2020, many of the key provisions of the JWA Settlement Agreement expire in 2015; most notably, the annual cap of 10.8 million air passengers (“MAP”) and the number of Class A passenger departures, currently capped at 85. Retaining these limits must be our goal. Equally important to retaining these limits by extending the agreement with the county is the need to maintain a favorable working relationship with the county, the proprietor of the airport, so that they can work effectively with the FAA the federal body which has sole jurisdiction of the nation’s airspace, so that the FAA is as responsive as possible to our resident’ concerns regarding operations at JWA, in particular the departure and arrival flight paths. Because of my focus on airport issues, I have been endorsed by key JWA Settlement Agreement participants, including Supervisor John Moorlach, SPON and AirFair Board Member Jean Watt, AirFair Board Member and Past Mayor Evelyn Hart and AWG Board Member and Chairman of the Newport Beach Planning Commission, Robert Hawkins. I have also been endorsed by former Mayor Clarence Turner one of the principle architects of the JWA Settlement Agreement.
I see my roll focusing on enlisting more neighboring cities to join the Coalition of Cities in support of extending the Settlement Agreement and work to bring the council’s Citizens Aviation Committee, the AWG and AirFair into one voice. Our city’s groups, when combined with the Coalition of Cities, will greatly aid in securing the necessary three votes for passage of the extension of the JWA Settlement Agreement by the county Board of Supervisors. It is important that we achieve a smooth transition into an extension agreement and therefore achieve continued support of the FAA’s efforts to identify and lock in the least damaging departure and arrival paths over Newport Beach and our neighboring communities.
Reno: We should ask for a continuance of the current agreement limiting the amount of passengers flying into and out of JWA and a continued enforcement of the curfew limiting planes from flying in the middle of the night. Additionally, we should ask for a prohibition on the noisiest models of airplanes.
As the lead lobbyist for a multinational company headquartered here in Orange County, I work in Washington D.C. frequently. As a council member I will bring a unique and unparalleled ability to advocate and educate as to why the settlement agreement needs to be continued. Working in harmony with the citizen organizations and residents of Newport Beach and other cities affected by the airport, I will bring my ability to access and influence the Federal Aviation Administration and those its leadership looks to for guidance so that the settlement agreement remains and our quality of life is protected.
4. What is your all-time favorite movie? Why?
Reno: I really enjoy “Caddyshack.” As a lifelong golfer and someone who enjoys a good laugh, “Caddyshack” has it all!
Hill: “My Architect,” written and directed by Nathan Kahn, the son of Louis Kahn. It is a great educational film, contrasting the timeless monumentality of Kahn’s straightforward architecture with a very twisted and secret life. It impressed me that the movie, through Nathan’s direction, somehow mirrored the strength, formality and coldness of his father’s architecture.
5. Some say the Civic Center project is too big and too expensive. Is it?
Hill: The city has embarked on the largest construction project it has every undertaken. Just because it is large it does not mean it is not needed or oversized. The City Hall portion of the Civic Center was professionally programmed by an architectural firm hired for programming purposes. Their findings were adjusted by staff, civic and oversight committee input. The oversight committee consisted of four Newport Beach architects, one Newport Beach landscape architect and chaired by an experienced Newport Beach developer. The resulting space program was then blessed by the City Council and provided to the architects screened and qualified to participate in the design competition. The park scope and size was in a large part set by the size of the site and opportunities that exist due to the physical features of the site. The library expansion was professionally evaluated and tested by staff and civic input. The parking structure was sized by code for the City Hall and added to through several years of experience with existing Library parking and civic input with the desire for parking for the park. The community room and Emergency Operations Centers were sized from civic and professional input and then adjusted for specific functional need. The Civic Center project is not too large. Through a process of over 32 public meetings the professionals, staff, public and oversight committee scrutinized and blessed every aspect of the scope of the project. Those that showed up and participate in the process understand this fact.
With respect to expense, to ensure the project’s cost is contained within budget parameters established at the beginning of the project, a construction management firm was retained. They were charged from the early stages of design to constantly evaluate every concept and eventually every detail to ensure the design team identified the best value possible in accomplishing the desired aesthetics, constructability, project timing and construction logistics. Under the direction of the construction management firm, the project has been divided into several separate agreements, each let by public bid to pre-qualified contractors able to deliver quality construction at a scope and complexity level matched to each separate phase and task. To date, rough grading, retaining walls and the parking structure as a design-build contract have been let. The project is approximately $5,000,000 under budget at this time, based on these first three major contracts. As for actual dollars paid out to date, less than $4 million has been paid for all construction management, preconstruction and construction accomplished. Do not believe false statements that tens of million’s of dollars have been paid out with no work to date. The statements of “over budget” and “tens of millions already paid” are mixing budget and contractual numbers, often out of context, and always for political purposes. It is anticipated at this time the total Civic Center Project will cost approximately $100 million.
Can the City of Newport Beach afford such a project? The bond underwriters of our nation certainly believe we can. We have just been provided a AAA bond rating, which undisputedly answers the question of affordability by professionals in finance that are not willing to take any advanced level of risk in today’s market and economic climate. The financial soundness of our city allows us to take advantage of the lowest building-cost climate experienced in the past several years. The Civic Center Project will also offer considerable employment opportunities for various levels of constriction trades and management personnel. By the way, the financing scheme for the Civic Center Project as well as our other infrastructure needs was first analyzed by a citizens group formed to study the issue and provide guidance to the City Council. Once again, policy was recommended by those who showed up and participated.
Just as the OASIS project was created by professionals and the citizens of Newport Beach and came in ahead of schedule and under budget, so it will be with the Civic Center Project. The sky is not falling in Newport. The sun is rising on a new era of renewed infrastructure. I believe my professional experience as an architect and project program manager will be helpful in directing the process as it moves into the construction of the City Hall building, the largest structure. It’s what I have done for a living for 35 years, and I can now offer my capabilities to the city as a councilperson to assist in achieving project success.
Reno: I acknowledge that the voters spoke in voting to approve building our new City Hall in the Fashion Island area. Given that vote, I too would like a nice City Hall building befitting of Newport Beach. However, I believe that the Civic Center project has morphed into a project that is too big and too expensive. Two years ago, when voting on Measure B, the citizens were told it would cost approximately $50 million and now the city’s own website has declared it will cost approximately $128 million (or more, given that the City Council authorized itself the ability to spend up to $150 million.) Further, independent real estate development experts have expressed concerns with regards to the management of the initial phase of the project, which have shown substantial cost overruns which in one case saw a 1,000% increase. My opponent served on the Civic Center design committee and he has stated that the increased cost of the project is a result of many meetings and substantial citizen input. Actually, the official minutes of the commission show that there were 14 separate meetings over two years and a grand total of 120 people who provided input. If this is the type of mandate my opponent uses to justify spending taxpayer money at up to 300% of original intent then I contend that we need a true taxpayer protector on the council – that is me.
6. What would your goal be for the Banning Ranch property, and how would you achieve it?
Reno: I believe that after many years the time has come to proceed with a plan to recycle Banning Ranch. The current state of Banning Ranch is not acceptable. It needs to be rehabilitated environmentally after the many years of oil well operations and the public should finally be provided access to it.
We have found that the property will cost a significant of amount money to acquire and rehabilitate and that those who would like to preserve the property in its entirety as open space have consistently come up short of funds to do so. I would counsel that the city call on all parties interested in a conservancy approach to the Banning Ranch property show the funding to do so now.
However, if they cannot present the funding mechanisms to acquire the land at a value that is consistent with fair market value then I believe that we should authorize the other plan on the table. This plan provides for a full 70% of Banning Ranch to remain open space and accessible to the public. The remaining 30% of Banning Ranch would be thoughtfully and respectfully developed to harmonize with the west Newport community. Additionally, the developers have committed to rehabilitating the open space and supporting its sustainability for the future.
Either way, I believe we must move forward now.
Hill: I support the parallel tracks of the Banning Ranch that are in compliance with our voter approved General Plan. One track acknowledges the property is for sale at market value to become 100% open space while the second track begins the processing of entitlements for reasonable development which would allocate the majority of the property to permanent open space. With either track, our primary goals for the Banning Ranch should be to achieve the maximum amount of environmentally clean, replenished, natural open space accessible to the public. Being a strong advocate of private property rights, I would not hold a property owner hostage while waiting for an individual or non-profit to purchase their property as open space. I would support responsible and sensitive development that funds the necessary expensive environmental clean up and restoration of the land, provides public access and improves surrounding property values. The city should serve as a facilitator in bringing all the stakeholders to the table to identify issues and opportunities that will allow the attainment of these goals.
7. Describe one of your favorite memories from childhood.
Hill: I have two. The first is spending time with my grandfather, Rush Hill (the first), in the woodshop building things. I grew up understanding it was important to be able to do something, not just know something. At one time I had built all the furniture in the apartment where I lived in Sacramento. My second memory is spending every Sunday with my family at San Onofre, surfing and playing volleyball. The outdoors and the beach were our church and we were there year round, rain or shine, with the same families from Orange County from sunup to way past sundown.
Reno: I fondly remember vacationing with my family on Balboa Island each summer. We would join other families each year for a week of sun, Balboa bars and bay cruises.
8. What is your position on privatization of city services?
Reno: Newport Beach has always expected the best in its municipal services – I know I do. However, I believe that because of budget constraints and the long-term consequences of retirement pensions we are duty-bound to explore some level of privatization. I believe that with City Council oversight we could privatize certain segments of our city government and still receive exceptional service. I am the only candidate with a plan. I have called for exploring the privatization of our city parking lot services for instance. If we were to outsource our Internet technology services we would save the city approximately $1 million a year.
Hill: I am a big fan of privatization where 1.) The same level of service can be maintained, 2.) Those impacted existing city employees so desiring can be transferred to the private sector company selected to provide the service, and 3.) The full vendor cost of providing the service is less than the fully burdened cost of having provided the service in-house. My privatization desires do not include our life safety operations (Police, Fire and Lifeguard) or refuse collection. In Newport Beach we very much like our police, fire, lifeguard and trash collection services and personnel! Safety and cleanliness are important elements of our quality of life in Newport Beach.
9. What do you think is your opponent’s greatest strength?
Hill: I suppose my opponent’s greatest strength is functioning as a registered lobbyist for an international drug company having its corporate headquarters in Irvine. I am sure my opponent, in his capacity as a lobbyist, is very good at using corporate funds to make significant contributions to state and federal legislators to influence the political process in favor of protecting and enhancing his drug company’s special interests.
Reno: My opponent has been involved in the community for over 40 years, serving on numerous committees and commissions. His involvement can be seen in his work to draft this election’s charter-amending Measure V. I definitely think that his interest in serving the community is good.
10. Is the city paying too much toward employee pensions? If so, what would you do about that?
Reno: Our pension obligations represent a significant threat to our city’s fiscal sustainability. Our city manager has stated that the city’s cost to service its pension obligations will at a minimum double in the next 12 to 16 months because CalPERS [the pension manager and investor for public employees in the state – Ed.] is underperforming. We have a $60 million unfunded pension liability and we have a $40 million unfunded employee healthcare benefit that we need to pay. We need to shift new employees to a 401k-style benefit if we truly want to keep from fiscal ruin. I have refused public employee union endorsements and campaign donations. I do not believe that you can take campaign money and support, and negotiate their contract. This would be a conflict in the private sector. My opponent has already taken over $6,200 in public employee union support in this campaign.
Hill: Like our state and many local governments all around us, Newport Beach has a significant unfunded liability related to public employee pensions. Previous decisions related to compensation and benefit packages at both the state and local levels, made years ago in times of great financial growth, now haunt current policymakers and are often determined to lead to unreasonable compensation. This ticking financial time bomb must be dealt with, and the opportunity to make significant changes in the structuring of retirement benefits is now.
The citizens of Newport Beach should know that Newport’s police, fire and lifeguards have recently and voluntarily agreed to forgo raises and begin to contribute to their retirement fund. Discussions are now underway with other employee groups.
Our employee groups are important partners, part of our team, responsible for providing the safety and delivering the municipal services that supports the quality of life enjoyed by those who live and work in Newport Beach. Newport’s employees’ associations recognize there is a problem that needs to be resolved and are willing to work with the City Council in achieving a fair and equitable solution.
In Newport Beach, we do this by meeting as a family and evaluating alternatives that address both public and private needs. Resolution comes from discussions amongst team members, not marches on City Council meetings or strikes and picket lines. Communication and working together brings solutions, not name calling and vilifying those who provide service to our community.
My objective is to establish a Retirement Benefit Funding Strategic Plan with the goal of achieving a fully funded retirement program for existing and new city employees within a four year period of time. I will accomplish this by working with my fellow councilpersons, bringing all relevant parties together to first understand and agree on the numbers associated with the unfunded liability and the resulting impossible financial burden imposed on the city. We will evaluate all possible alternatives and determine the best solution to achieve a fully funded, fair and sustainable program that is competitive with other local agencies.
As a starting point, I agree with a two-tier program, with one for new hires and one for existing personnel. I believe all must contribute to their retirement plans and the retirement age should be raised from 50 to 55 for life safety personnel and to 60 years of age for management personnel. We should also look to define a hybrid benefit payout that is part fixed and part variable based on the success level of investment by the Public Employees Retirement System.