New Year, New Goals for Newport Beach

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Robyn Grant

By Robyn Grant, Newport Beach City Councilmember

With 2023 in the rear view, 2024 represents a renewed opportunity to achieve city-wide priorities. A large range of initiatives will play a role in providing a high quality of life for those living and working in Newport Beach with a focus on fiscal sustainability, public safety, improved infrastructure, and maintaining the integrity of our coastal community.

Fiscal Sustainability

Fiscal sustainability remains the number one objective as it ensures the safe and proper overall operation of our city. The 2024-25 General Fund revenue is projected to be $316 million which is a 2.6 percent increase over last year. This revenue derives from three main sources, property tax (the largest revenue generator at an estimated $149 million, sales tax (at an estimated $46 million), and hotel/short term rental tax (at an estimated $33 million).

On the budget side, a significant portion is devoted to public safety with additional monies to improve public assets such as beaches, streets, parks, and water and wastewater systems, as well fund vital programs and services and an aggressive paydown of pension liabilities. Current projections indicate the elimination of unfunded pension debt in approximately 8 years, which will free up substantial resources for other city priorities.

Public Safety

Public safety is always a priority in our city. Our Police Department includes a team of highly trained personnel who proudly serve our residents, businesses, and visitors. The department works closely with our community to monitor and track crime and address needs. It is imperative we commit the necessary resources to maintain our public safety at the highest level of service.

A critical element of crime prevention is community engagement. The Police Department offers in-home inspections to assist residents with “home hardening.” A crime prevention specialist will review and recommend overall security including locks, lighting, landscaping, and participating in Neighborhood Watch programs. To request home security advice, contact the Crime Prevention Unit at (949) 644-3699.

Our Fire Department was just named a Class 1 department after a two-year comprehensive industry review. We are one of three departments in Orange County out of eleven total, one of 45 departments in California out of 862 total, and one of 498 departments in the United States out of 38,195 total, to receive this designation. That puts us in the top 1.3 percent of fire departments in the country.

For perspective, this extraordinary accomplishment will very likely result in more competitive insurance rates in our city as the Class designations are used to establish fire premiums.

We are also investing in additional city-run paramedic services, with a new ambulance and six new trained crew members. This is the fourth Advanced Life Support capable ambulance in operation in Newport Beach. Residents and businesses should consider joining the Fire Medics Program. A fee of $84 per year covers unlimited paramedic and emergency ambulance services with no out-of-pocket expenses for any household member or guest. This is a considerable savings as the full cost of this assistance could be upwards of $1,800. Register for the program at (949) 644-3383.

General Plan

On the legislative side, a significant item on the November ballot will be public approval of our General Plan update, the city-wide planning document that establishes the goals and vision of Newport Beach for years to come. The update is well underway via an almost 30-member Council-appointed Advisory Committee.

The General Plan will incorporate our state approved Housing Element which includes planning for 4845 state mandated housing units (anything from apartments to single family homes).

This housing must include affordable as well as market rate housing. The public will have a chance to vote on the General Plan update as the zoning changes resulting from the housing mandates will trigger our city’s “Greenlight” initiative which requires voter approval of certain increases in residential and commercial density.

Equally significant in 2024 will be negotiations regarding John Wayne Airport as certain operational agreements start to expire in 2025. Our city is invested in continuing a strong partnership with the airport to alleviate adverse impacts on our community. We are committed to a renewal of terms which restrict commercial flights via noise, passenger, and takeoff and landing, as well as working with general aviation flight operators for similar concessions.

Homelessness

Homeless response is also high-level priority, with a comprehensive approach that includes a new city ordinance prohibiting tents and other street living accommodations, increasing the number of beds available in our shared shelter with Costa Mesa, and the potential for a partnership for conversion of a Costa Mesa hotel to permanent, supportive housing.

Addressing the proliferation of group recovery homes in our neighborhoods continues to be a concern. The Council formally resolved to oppose Proposition 1 on the November ballot, a $6.3 billion bond measure that, if it passes, will escalate funding and licensing for group homes in our residential areas.

With the assistance of Assemblymember Diane Dixon, we requested a state audit of these businesses to fully understand the scope of the problem. We also collaborate with the California Sober Living & Recovery Task Force, a bi-partisan coalition of cities established in 2022 to advocate for greater state transparency and oversight of group recovery homes. Participate in the audit at soberlivingtaskforce.com where you can share a firsthand account about how poorly regulated group recovery homes impact your neighborhood.

Infrastructure

Regarding infrastructure, Public Works is working hard to complete a number of projects in 2024.

Sand replenishment from Seal Beach to Newport Beach by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers began in November for long-overdue essential beach protection. Crews deposited about 1.2 million cubic yards of sand in the Sunset Beach area, which will move south over the next few years through natural wave and tidal flow. As part of the replenishment, the Army Corps already completed movement of 100,000 cubic yards of sand from the Santa Ana River area to replenish beaches between 52nd and 36th streets.

We are also in the last stages of construction of the Superior Avenue Bicycle and Pedestrian Bridge at Coast Highway and Superior Avenue which will alleviate traffic on the corridor from the city border into Mariners Mile.

Just in time for summer, we will open a new 5,400 sq ft Junior Lifeguard Headquarters at the Balboa Pier. This year is the 40th anniversary of the program and a time for celebration of this important Newport Beach institution and annual rite-of-passage for over 1,400 kids.

The Newport Bay Trash Interceptor, a sustainably powered system to collect floating trash before it enters the Upper Bay, will be operational by December.

Construction will begin shortly on a Central Library Civic Hall in collaboration with the Newport Beach Library Foundation which will fund 50 percent of the estimated $23 million cost.

The 9,814-square-foot building includes tiered, stadium seating for 299 people and will host a variety of library and other public events throughout the year.  Another library project pending construction is the “liberstation” on the Balboa Peninsula, a combined library and fire station much like the one in Corona del Mar.

And there’s more, lots more, with the ongoing planning for long range improvements like replacing the Balboa Island seawalls, Newport and Balboa Pier replacements, city-wide park improvements, and bay dredging.

Our city is fortunate to have invested in the requisite long-range planning, including maintaining sufficient capital reserves, to accomplish this level of service and infrastructure. It is a great honor to serve on the City Council and partner with our highly qualified staff and members of our community to achieve these and other important city initiatives.

Robyn Grant is a member of the Newport Beach City Council. First elected in 2022, she represents District 4. She can be reached at [email protected].

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