By Outgoing Newport Beach Mayor Will O’Neill
Of the 34 cities in Orange County, only a handful directly elect their Mayor. Here in Newport Beach, our residents elect our City Council Members, who then annually choose amongst themselves who will be Mayor and Mayor Pro Tem in any given year. These annual selections provide an opportunity to reflect on the past year and then chart a vision for the coming year.
One year ago, I envisioned a year very different from the year that we have actually had. I envisioned a year of taking on difficult tasks, but tasks that were normal to the everyday life of a vibrant, mature city.
I anticipated a focus on the fundamentals, a response to external pressures at the legislative level – in particular RHNA – and expected to celebrate those who give back in what I had dubbed The Year Of The Volunteer.
I also envisioned my kids throwing candy from a car during the Balboa Island Parade and smiling during the Mayor’s Egg Roll.
COVID and the resulting reactions at the national, state, county, and local levels have, of course, overshadowed the year that we all envisioned. And yet, in the midst of a pandemic, we cannot ignore the accomplishments and milestones this city reached this year.
We called for a continuing focus on setting and expecting the highest standards from our public safety officials. Our NB Police Department has stepped up in countless ways this year and has earned every bit of praise that this community has given.
We called for a replacement of the Lido Fire Station, which we have approved and will see constructed in the coming year. Additionally, our NB Fire Department has responded to every medical call in the midst of a pandemic and has saved communities up and down this state with mutual aid fire calls.
We have improved our core infrastructure, worked hard on our unfunded pension liability despite significant budgetary reductions, and dramatically improved our city’s response to homelessness.
We have appealed our RHNA number and continue to work with local and state legislators to improve the allocation determinations.
And we highlighted the good work done in our City by recognizing a number of organizations and people who make our city better.
We have recognized volunteers like Debbie Brostek who runs our Newport Harbor High School mentorship program, Karen Tringali who has given back for decades, Vicki Ronaldson at Corona del Mar Community Church Congregational, the amazing volunteers at Sherman Gardens, and many more.
My sentimental favorite remains the very first volunteer recognition, Tony Cappa, who led the OASIS ukulele singers and strummers club for 27 years.
Of course, as noted, I simply did not anticipate one year ago that we would declare a state of emergency in our city on March 18 that would continue through today and into the foreseeable future. This year has been, in a word, unprecedented.
We have fought for open spaces to remain open, responded to historic flooding on the peninsula, partnered with our school district to return students to school, hosted a modified but incredibly successful NB Junior Guards program, and so much more.
Throughout, we have acknowledged that our city is not a health care agency, but that we would follow the guidelines and orders from our state and county health care agencies.
And, perhaps most importantly for our residents’ overall health, we partnered early with Hoag Hospital to amplify their messages throughout the year.
We have also been fortunate to see an expansion of quality health care available to our city this year, with the addition of Hoag’s urgent care in Newport Coast, UCI’s whole body urgent care in Newport Center, and City of Hope’s world-class cancer treatment center.
Our city’s mental health has also been at the forefront of my mind this year. I have heard from so many of our residents who have also gone through extraordinary pain and grief this year. I and so many of you have lost friends and family this year, some in truly tragic ways. My heart has broken alongside yours. Just know that you are not alone.
So we end this year in a very different place than we did one year ago. A place that requires steady leadership, which I know exists in spades in this city.
This past Tuesday night was the culmination of my term as Mayor of Newport Beach and I look forward to serving alongside our new Mayor, Brad Avery. He and I served alongside one another during this tumultuous year and he will assume the role in the midst of an unprecedent moment in our City’s history.
Despite all of the challenges this City has faced, I thank our residents and my colleagues for the chance to be Mayor this year. I will of course continue to serve on City Council and continue to work hard for our residents and the broader community too.
We can and we will continue to be Newport Strong. We can and we will continue to be the light in this darkness.
From the bottom of my heart, thank you.