The first Newport Beach City Council meeting with the four new reform council members was on December 9. The new members asked city staff to prepare plans to audit the city hall construction project and the tidelands fund.
In addition to auditing the city hall spending, the audit should review the construction contracts, the design contracts, the change orders and the management (or lack thereof) by the city.
CW Driver was both the contractor and the project manager. I’ve spoken to people in the construction industry who have told me that an independent project manager should oversee the contractor. The old council let CW Driver supervise itself.
The only people who might have been reviewing CW Driver’s invoices were city staff and the council members on the building committee.
Newport Beach City Council member Duffy asked that the tidelands fund be audited. The Tidelands fund collects revenue and pays expenses relating to the state tidelands areas including the harbor, back bay, and beaches.
Some boaters complain that the harbor creates much of the revenue, but that harbor maintenance has been neglected. Newport’s recreational boating harbor should be dredged constantly to ensure that the use of the harbor is safe for all boats and minimize harbor maintenance costs through preventative measures.
Conversely, the beach generates enforcement costs. Some critics argue that the beach costs should be charged to the tidelands fund since the water attracts beach goers.
The tideland audit can provide information to help improve water quality in the harbor.
The San Diego Creek drains into the Back Bay after being filtered through the managed wetlands built by the Irvine Ranch Water District. Among the bad things that are filtered out of the water are fertilizers and urban runoff. By filtering out fertilizers that fuel algae, less algae will grow in the harbor. Filtering out urban runoff reduces heavy metals and petrochemicals.
Councilman Peotter told me that there is a lot more wildlife in Back Bay because the manufactured wetlands filter water from the San Diego Creek before it comes into the Back Bay. He advocates adding the UCI wetlands to this filtering system to improve Back Bay water quality.
I’m concerned that if the audits are done by, or directed by, the city staff, it would be the fox guarding the henhouse. These audits need to be independent to be meaningful. The only role city staff should have is to answer questions and provide documents.
A citizen’s committee should supervise a financial audit, a management audit, and an architectural design audits on the city hall.
The city hall audit should focus on whether the taxpayer’s interests were protected, or whether the design and spending was above the standard of city halls.