Letter to the Editor: The Impact of a Few

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You can’t go away on vacation from Newport Beach and return without hearing about a political calamity or two.

Yes, sometimes the actions of just a few people can have a major impact on many. Such was the case during the last few weeks with the City Council’s involvement in two controversial decisions — one over the placement of the planned homeless shelter and the second over the issue of the construction of a house on Kings Road — a case appealed to it from the Planning Commission.

There were articles a month ago in the Daily Pilot, Stu News and the Indy about the problems surrounding the development of a single house on Kings Road which was to be at least three times larger than the neighboring houses. In order to build the large house, the property owners applied and were granted five “luxury” variances from the Planning Commission. The meeting at the PC was a most lively one, with spirited speakers showing up on both sides. Many neighbors of Kings Road told of how they had not received similar “priority” treatment from the building department that these current owners were receiving. It was also brought out that the monstrous size of the house would cause damage to the protected coastal bluffs and threaten to affect the public views from Pacific Coast Highway, a designated coastal view road. At the end of the evening when the PC voted in favor of the new property owners, a large group at the meeting was stunned. But the drama and the chicanery did not stop there.

The neighbors’ plight came to the attention of SPON who backed them in their appeal to the City Council. After making their case to the City Council, the majority of the residents were greatly disappointed as one of the votes they expected to carry was that of Councilman Jeff Herdman. Instead, he voted with the majority to allow the variances while Councilwoman Joy Brenner, Mayor Diane Dixon, and Councilman Brad Avery voted to deny them.

By the time that last Tuesday’s City Council meeting came around, it was learned by many that Mr. Herdman had apparently regretted his vote with the majority at the previous Council meeting and was waiting for the opportunity to make a motion to ask the Council to reconsider the item. That opportunity, by accident or by design, did not occur until around midnight. To the surprise of the residents of the Heights and Cliffhaven who felt that the new neighbors at Kings Road were unsympathetic to their concerns, when Herdman made the motion to reconsider the item (presumably intending to change his stance to vote with the previous minority denying the variances), Mayor Dixon and Councilman Avery had apparently changed their minds. Their vote against reconsidering the item was essentially a vote FOR the variances the second time around! What had seemed to be a victory for the established residents, turned into defeat as the Mayor and Councilman Avery changed their votes.

It has come out that, before last Tuesday’s meeting, the mayor and some council members purportedly visited the potential builders on at least one occasion accompanied by a former councilman (who keeps popping up in questionable places). There was also the issue of a sign that was placed on a neighbor’s property expressing the disillusionment and frustration of the neighbors. Although it was likely an expression of first amendment rights, it was removed quietly. Whether the visit led to what happened next is up for conjecture. At any rate, Mayor Dixon decided to change her vote to essentially allow the variances. And Councilman Avery followed suit. There are many people who conjecture that these changes were not spontaneous.

You get two types of people in City Council — those who genuinely want to serve the needs of the city and those who want to use the city to pursue personal gain. Sometimes you get both traits in the same person, but that is rare. Wouldn’t it be nice if all of the Council members of Newport Beach had the best interests of the city as their goal?

Lynn Lorenz
Newport Beach

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