Newport Beach Mayor Will O’Neill emphasized housing concerns, unity, community service, and resident involvement during a speech at an event last week.
O’Neill gave a “State of the City” speech at Speak Up Newport’s 39th Annual Mayor’s Dinner on Feb. 6. More than 500 people attended the sold-out event at Marriott Hotel & Spa in Newport Center.
The night was about honoring the legacy of leadership, O’Neill said, to appreciate the people who came before.
In a lighter moment, he showed younger photos of two City Council members who attended local high schools, Marshall “Duffy” Duffield and Joy Brenner. Saying he always looked a little older than he really is, O’Neill showed his current Council headshot, joking that it was also from his high school days.
More seriously, he added that he is honored to work with his fellow Council members and thanked all the past mayors in the room.
“We stand on the shoulders of giants,” O’Neill said.
It’s important to honor that history, but not live in it and to look forward, he added.
O’Neill went over several current projects and accomplishments, including the review of the city’s Title 17 Harbor Code and two Newport Beach Police Department cases that received national attention last year. He also mentioned a number of public works and maintenance projects.
“I am proud to say that the state of our city is strong, united, and blessed,” O’Neill said.
It’s important to stay united as the city faces external challenges, primarily the housing requirements dictated by the state.
“Indeed, the changes to traditional modes of housing that people have been accustomed to — that people purchased with an expectation of continuity, that have been bedrocks of our marketplace — have been upended,” O’Neill said.
So much so, that the certain legislation has essentially ended single-family housing zoning, he added.
California officials have tried to justify it by calling it a statewide housing emergency and “blaming cities for not building enough,” he explained.
“That simply has not been the case in our city, despite barriers imposed on us by other government agencies,” O’Neill said.
During the last housing cycle, through the Regional Housing Needs Assessment process, they were told to plan for five new housing units. Instead, the city approved 1,712 new units, he noted.
Now, the city is supposed to plan for 4,832 new housing units in Newport Beach over the next eight years, as directed by the Southern California Association of Governments. The plan is to push back politically and legally, while also looking for ways to comply, O’Neill explained.
“We are not a city averse to housing. We are a city averse to being caught in the middle of competing priorities from other government agencies,” O’Neill said, eliciting applause from the audience. “As a coastal city, there is barely a square inch of land inside of our city that is not regulated by another government agency.”
O’Neill also spoke about declaring 2020 the “Year of the Volunteer” in an effort to celebrate those who work to make the city better.
The residents are the reason why the city is strong, united, and blessed, he commented.
“People who have taken the time, their talent, and their treasure to step up and do the right thing over and over,” O’Neill said. “And we are going to celebrate that over and over and over again this year.”
Emphasizing how precious life, love and time are, O’Neill mentioned the Jan. 26 helicopter crash that had several Newport Beach residents on board. The city is still mourning and “our hearts still ache” for the loss of community members from the Altobelli, Bryant, Chester, and Mauser families.
“Be the light in this world,” O’Neill said. “That is who we are. That is Newport Beach and I am proud to be your mayor.”