It was a City Council meeting unlike any ever held in Newport Beach.
On Tuesday, April 14, the Newport Beach City Council conducted a meeting with council members – along with City Manager Grace Leung, City Attorney Aaron Harp, and others – participating either at home or at separate areas of city hall, each present via video conferencing. There were a few technical glitches, but all of the important discussions, decisions and votes took place.
The actual meeting itself took less than an hour to discuss and vote on the agenda items. One hot button item, the appeal of the Planning Commission approval for a proposed office complex and parking structure on Riverside Drive, was pulled from the agenda because the appellants and the property developer are close to coming to an agreement on the proposed development, and asked to have it withdrawn.
The City Council spent nearly 90 minutes discussing the city’s response to COVID-19, and took public comments from citizens who were waiting to speak remotely in the civic center’s community room, or on the phone.
City Manager Grace Leung provided an update on the coronavirus timeline that impacted the city.
“Four weeks ago, we began to close things and isolate,” said Leung. “We can see the progress and the impacts of what isolation and stay at home orders have done. We have looked at ways to maintain and enforce social distancing and contribute to the stay at home order. It’s sometimes a painful process to find the right balance.”
Leung noted that her staff had 17 different signs made that were developed to enforce social distancing and closures. More than one thousand signs have been deployed throughout the city, in addition to nine electronic signs, to get the message out to the public about city closures and response.
Leung said she would discuss the fiscal impacts of the closures at the April 28 city council meeting.
Newport Beach Fire Chief Jeff Boyles addressed the city council and said the city’s emergency center has been operational since March 15 so they can tie together all city departments. He talked about the fact that countywide hospitals are at 50 percent capacity, and that the latest coronavirus modeling shows the virus will peak this week.
“From here out we’re hoping for a steady decline and flattening of the curve,” he said, adding that “we have transported five known COVID patients to hospitals.”
Newport Beach Police Chief Jon Lewis was asked if there has been a decrease in crime since the city closures went into effect. He replied that there has been “an unprecedented decrease in crime” due to people staying home, although he did not cite specific statistics. He recommended residents stay vigilant and continue to lock their homes and car doors to prevent crimes of opportunity.
Mayor Will O’Neill thanked the residents of Newport Beach “for the incredible sacrifice you are going through, we are very mindful of that. We are trying hard to start looking past the horizon of this and try to figure out how to return to normalcy.”
Mayor O’Neill also thanked the city’s staff who have put in extra hours.
Councilmember Jeff Herdman agreed, stating that “we need to be incredibly appreciative of the outstanding staff and our emergency operations for the incredible job you are doing during the crisis.”
Councilmember Diane Dixon said “I echo what has been said. Our residents are coming together in a remarkable way. Social distancing is working.”