Newport Beach City Council’s annual “changing of the guard” meeting Tuesday resulted in a new mayor and mayor pro tem for 2020, which will be the “Year of the Volunteer,” according to the new leadership on the dais.
After a unanimous vote and shifting of seats, Will O’Neill is in the center of the dais as mayor and Brad Avery as mayor pro tem.
O’Neill said it’s a privilege to sit on the dais. He thanked his friends and family, colleagues, and the voters during his comments after the vote.
O’Neill outlined his three overarching goals for the upcoming year: Focus on the fundamentals, and get them right; respond to external pressures in ways not seen in quite some time; and celebrate volunteers and community members and groups that give their time and talents for the betterment of the city.
“2020 will be known in Newport Beach as the ‘Year of The Volunteer,’” O’Neill said.
He gave several examples of residents who go above and beyond to help the community.
To highlight this emphasis, he called up from the audience Tony Cappa, 97, who has led the OASIS ukulele singers and strummers club for 27 years. He retired earlier this year and now serves as the sergeant at arms.
The group is a pillar of the community. O’Neill officially recognized Cappa and the club with a presentation on Tuesday.
Cappa recited just a few words.
“Say I’m sad, say I’m weary; say that health and wealth have passed me. Say I’m old. Then add this: My uke has blessed me,” Cappa said. “Yes, it has.”
O’Neill challenged his colleagues to find five people or groups to honor at Council meetings in the coming year.
“That will be at least 35 mini-ceremonies that highlight the best that our city has to offer,” O’Neill said. “There is, of course, no shortage when it comes to finding the positive in our city.”
O’Neill also explained his other areas of emphasis for 2020.
The “fundamentals” include: Setting and expecting high standards from public safety staff; ensuring they are trained properly; setting aside money for fire and police stations; maintain and replace infrastructure as needed; and, because he’s a young, millennial mayor, that also includes a renewed emphasis on the parks and a deeper relationship with the school district.
They will also continue to aggressively approach the unfunded pension payment plan, he added.
External pressures include, first and foremost, addressing the housing requirements that Sacramento’s legislation and the Southern California Association of Governments’ votes have handed down to the city. This will require substantial community involvement, staff time and resources, and Council cohesion, O’Neill commented.
It also includes addressing the growing homelessness problem, airport noise, and funding harbor dredging operations. The city must also remain vigilant about expressing the community’s concerns about “the way Sacramento has approached public safety and unfunded mandates.”
Typically, the mayor pro tem is selected as the next mayor. Last year, in an unusual move, O’Neill (who was also mayor pro tem in 2018) stepped aside and nominated Diane Dixon. He called it an opportunity for reconciliation and an olive branch to help heal the division in the city, which came to a head during the 2018 campaign season and election.
Dixon started her second term noting that there is “more that binds us than divides us,” O’Neill recalled.
“That was a common refrain throughout 2019 for this Council,” O’Neill said on Tuesday. “We moved the city’s business forward, professionally, under Mayor Dixon’s watch.”
As is the tradition, he presented the outgoing mayor with a mounted gavel.
“I have great confidence in your leadership, and I look forward to a very productive year ahead,” Dixon said during the meeting. “This Council works hard for the people of Newport Beach. And it shows.”
She went over several projects and developments in the city from the past year, thanking staff, residents, and her fellow Council members for their work.
“There’s never a shortage of projects or issues,” she concluded. “But we stay focused on continual improvement of our infrastructure and the distinct amenities that create value for our community and property owners.”
It was a great honor to serve the city, she said.
“I am humbled by the deep commitment to our city by our residents, our city staff and our Council,” Dixon said. “We all work together — we discuss, we disagree and we debate — to ensure that the city runs efficiently, with fiscal prudence and an operating model that best serves our residents and business owners.”
Dixon said she was “delighted” to “wholeheartedly” nominate Avery for the position. He’s done outstanding work for the past several years, she added.
Although Avery didn’t speak during the Council meeting, he gave a brief speech at the Newport Beach Chamber of Commerce’s Mayor’s Reception at the Back Bay Bistro reception later Tuesday night.
“I’m really looking forward to the next couple of years,” Avery said. “We have a great town, but I think we also have a lot of work to do.”
The projects and issues that need to be worked on have been made clear, Avery said, referencing O’Neill’s earlier speech. There are challenges, but they can overcome, he added.
“But we’re up for it,” Avery said. “And try to have a great time while we’re doing it.”