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At our September Parks, Beaches and Recreation Committee meeting, one item on the agenda was a recommendation to the City Council on renaming the soon-to-be-reopened Oasis Senior Center.

The center has undergone a total renovation during the past 16 months and a virtually new facility will reopen to seniors next month. As with any project like this, fundraising was a key to getting the project off the ground and completed. Evelyn Hart, former Parks, Beaches and Recreation commissioner, councilwoman, mayor and Citizen of the Year was instrumental in the fundraising drive and a force behind getting the project completed on time.

Few people in Newport Beach are as respected as Evelyn Hart, and I suspect that had someone other than Evelyn been out in front of this effort, the facility might still be in the planning stages.

I have served on the Parks, Beaches and Recreation Commission for more than seven years and I received more e-mail and telephone calls over this issue that any other we have addressed. The list of those issues includes banning smoking on the beach, restrictions on the uses of Corona del Mar State Beach, removing trees from neighborhoods and dog parks to name just a few. Those who contacted me were evenly divided for and against adding Evelyn’s name to the Oasis Senior Center.

Those who want to see Evelyn’s efforts recognized have been advocating that the Oasis Senior Center be renamed the Evelyn Hart Oasis Senior Center. The issue was taken directly to the Mayor, and of course, his response, though unofficial, was positive.

Then, the idea became the topic of a newspaper editorial. After that, those who have a long history (approximately 30 years) with the Oasis Senior Center became concerned that this “train had left the station” so to speak, and began to voice their concerns as to whether or not adding Evelyn’s name to the Oasis Senior Center was appropriate.

The point here is that there had yet to be any dialogue between the important constituency groups (i.e. the Friends of Oasis Senior Center and the City who owns and manages the facility) on the issue and it had already become divisive.

It seems to me that there could be a lesson learned here to avoid a sensitive issue like this being placed on a Parks Beaches and Recreation hearing agenda for a recommendation to the City Council in the future. First, had those who supported the idea of adding Evelyn’s name to the Center, done some research on existing city policy for naming buildings after individuals, they would have been alerted to the significant challenge before them. Before asking the Mayor’s opinion, had they asked the opinion of constituency groups associated with the building, perhaps everyone involved could have reached consensus on an alternative idea before going to city officials and the public.

I find it ironic that the issue became as divisive as it was over the name of Evelyn Hart, woman who has dedicated most of her adult life to building consensus around conflict in our city. In studying the staff reports prior to our hearing, I spent a lot of time thinking about what Evelyn must be feeling and thinking about this.

While listening to citizens rave about her efforts in the success of the project and then disagree how those efforts should be recognized, I kept looking at Evelyn who was in attendance at the hearing.

I haven’t spoken to her since we decided on our recommendation (to name a room in the center for her, rather than the whole center), but I have to believe that she would support it. I certainly hope so because she is to me, as she is to many others, a model for civic leadership.

Tim Brown

 

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