After an hour-long contentious discussion and hundreds of emails from both proponents and opponents, Newport Beach City Council decided to move forward with the library lecture hall project.
Council voted 5-2 on the item on Tuesday, with councilmen Kevin Muldoon and Marshall “Duffy” Duffield dissenting.
Approval of the item included land use agreements with Irvine Company and a professional services agreement with Robert Coffee Architects + Associates at an overall cost not to exceed $637,670.
Total cost of the project is estimated at about $8 million. Supporters have confirmed their promise to raise half the funds needed. When the conceptual design and preliminary budget are brought back to the Council in the spring, an agreement between the public and private funding responsibilities will also be considered.
The majority of Council members agreed that there was a lot of community support for the project, which would drive the private funding aspect of the lecture hall. Several also noted that the project is worthwhile because of the benefits it will bring to the community.
The key concern was the price tag and the use of taxpayer dollars toward something is a “want” and not a “need,” as both Muldoon and Duffield explained in their reasoning for their vote.
Muldoon was initially leaning toward support of the project, but has since heard from enough residents with concerns about the spending to vote no, he explained.
Duffield said it sounds great, but he doesn’t want to pay for it. The people in his district are not big on this project, he commented. There are many other things that the city needs to pay for instead, he concluded.
Unfunded pension liabilities and the debt on the civic center are still very sizable numbers, and are worth considering, commented Mayor Pro Tem Will O’Neill. There are reasons to be concerned, he added.
“Folks aren’t wrong to be focused on the finances of this,” O’Neill said.
This is a “nice to have” not a “need to have,” he admitted. And although his “default” — like Muldoon also mentioned for himself — is to say “No” to certain costly items, there is more to consider with this project, O’Neill explained.
“But because this is one of those things that I value extraordinarily,” considering the social infrastructure that will bring people together, O’Neill said, “you need to recognize some of the intrinsic value that comes along with something like this.”
They have saved and set aside money for other needs, he pointed out. There is a queue of projects for the city, and “it’s worth moving forward with this,” O’Neill said.
O’Neill suggested setting a cap for the city spending, rather than just agreeing to a 50/50 deal.
The “fiscal house” is vigorously protected in order to make sure the city is vibrant, strong, healthy, and desirable. Commented Mayor Diane Dixon. They are tackling the unfunded pension issue and paying it down at an accelerated rate, she added. It’s a long-term obligation and it’s on the fast track, but they also have to invest in current and future quality of life projects, she noted.
“It’s a balance,” Dixon said.
There has quite a bit of public debate over the project, particularly about the price tag and whether or not the facility is needed. A vocal opponent has been Balboa Island resident Bob McCaffrey, who spoke at Tuesday’s meeting.
In the most heated exchange during the discussion of the project, McCaffrey attempted to turn around to face the audience as he felt the Council members had already made up their minds. Dixon and City Attorney Aaron Harp reminded him that the policy for public comment is to address the Council. The audience jeered and Dixon banged the gavel, as McCaffrey eventually turned back around to face the dais and explained his concerns.
“I thought the idea was so unnecessary that no one would take it seriously,” McCaffrey said. “I know we’re rich, but I don’t think we’re stupid.”
It’s not fiscally conservative, he noted. McCaffrey commented on the civic center and pension debt in the city. The money could be used on other things needed by the city, like maintaining the harbor or new fire stations.
“This is not a need, this is a want,” he commented.
He’s opposed to using taxpayer’s money for the project. Proponents should raise 100 percent of the funds privately, McCaffrey concluded.
Jill Johnson-Tucker, chair of the Library Lecture Hall Design Committee and former Board of Library Trustees member, disagreed, saying it would be fiscally irresponsible to not support the lecture hall.
Half of the $8 million projected price tag is coming from private fundraisers, Johnson-Tucker pointed out. A number of other libraries with lecture halls didn’t have that type of financial partnership, she added.
“It’s a pretty great idea,” she said.
“Our naysayers don’t recognize how lucky the city is to have all of the volunteers that work on these projects,” Johnson-Tucker said, pointing out the library volunteers and supporters have also agreed to raising half of the construction costs.
They already have non-binding agreements to the tune of $1.35 million, Johnson-Tucker reported.
“We’re ready to go. There’s no reason why we can’t see this happen,” Johnson-Tucker said. “We’re happy to help with half, 100 percent of it is outrageous. All our other peer libraries already have what we don’t and we’re ready to help the city get there, but it shouldn’t be 100 percent on our shoulders.”
The facility is long overdue, she said, urging the Council not to “kick the can down the road.”
They knew they “had a problem” with the Friend’s Room at the Library many years ago, she pointed out. It didn’t support the number of events and attendees the city hosts, she added. Newport Beach is lacking compared to “peer” libraries, Johnson-Tucker commented.
At the March 12 City Council Study Session, several ideas and concepts for a potential
new Central Library Lecture Hall were presented. Council supported the idea and approved funding for development of conceptual plans and project cost estimate in June.
The Library Lecture Hall Design Committee was established to oversee the project design consultant selection and overall design of the proposed new facility.
The project is planned to be located by the bamboo courtyard by the Newport Beach Central Library.
Staff issued a Request for Proposals for architectural concept plans and received seven submitted proposals. After hours of discussion, presentations from the top choices, and follow-up questionnaires, the Committee recommended Robert Coffee Architects + Associates. Coffee is a Balboa Island resident.
Committee members commented at the time that Coffee’s concept was distinctive and functional. Committee members hope to have more public input at forums in early 2020.
They aren’t trying to compete with the Segerstrom Center in Costa Mesa or the Laguna Playhouse in Laguna Beach, she pointed out.
“This will be unique to Newport Beach, that we will be proud of,” Dixon said. “It will be functional…and reflect the people of Newport Beach.”