Numerous Noteworthy Items on Council Agenda

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It’s official, Newport Beach City Council confirmed their decision this week to repeal an earlier approval of the controversial project in Newport Center known as Museum House.

Council members voted 4-2 Tuesday to approve the second reading of their decision to repeal any Museum House-related approvals (minus the Environmental Impact Report). Mayor Pro Tem Marshall “Duffy” Duffield was absent, and councilmen Will O’Neill and Scott Peotter dissented.

Although it involved historically one of the most hotly debated issues, there was no discussion Tuesday night on the item.

The only comment made from either the public or council members came from O’Neill, who said he “registered a very respectful no” on the item

Last week, a judge turned down a request for a temporary restraining order that would have prevented the Council from the second reading.  

Orange County Superior Court judge Geoffrey Glass heard Orange County Museum of Art’s request on March 8, but held off on a ruling until March 9.

Council voted 5-2 Feb. 28 to rescind the prior approval of the 25-story, 100-unit condominium tower in Newport Center. Councilmen O’Neill and Peotter again dissented.

In November, a slightly different council voted 6-1 to approve Related California’s Museum House project. It was slated to replace the single-story Orange County Museum of Art currently at the location at 850 San Clemente Drive.

The nearly 1,100-page referendum petition, headed up by community group Line in the Sand Political Action Committee, included more than 13,000 signatures gathered before Christmas and validated by the OC Registrar of Voters in January. The petition required the project go to a vote, but the Council instead decided to go with the “voice of the people” and repeal the approval, minus the EIR, which is still active.

Opponents have noted that not including the EIR in the repeal keeps the door open for the project to return, despite the resident outcry over the project evident in the petition.

Council members had several other noteworthy items on their consent calendar, which is typically voted on in one single motion and includes a number of items considered “routine,” during their Tuesday meeting.

There was some confusion with the calendar this week, with some items being pulled or continued, and Mayor Kevin Muldoon joked “Who’s on first?” before things got worked out.


St. James the Great Episcopal Church

Another item included a historically hot topic in Newport Beach: The saga of St. James the Great Episcopal Church.

Councilwoman Diane Dixon moved to continue the item, which involved her previous request to send a letter of support for the church retaining their property. Her fellow council members agreed unanimously.

She didn’t speak to her motion, except to say that it would be postponed until the Council’s next meeting, which is scheduled for March 28.

St James, located on 32nd Street on the Balboa Peninsula, has been a local Episcopal church since the early 1940s, according to the staff report. Recently, Diocesan Bishop J. Jon Bruno has attempted to sell the buildings, raising objections from the church members, who have been locked out of the parish since 2015 and continue to meet in other locations around town.

An ecclesiastical trial is scheduled for March 28-30 in Pasadena, that could be a turning point for the local church, city staff noted.

“A long-running saga between the local parishioners at St James the Great… comes to another possible decision point,” with the ecclesiastical trial, city staff explain in the report.

At the trial or hearing, the panel (made up of three bishops, a priest, and a layperson) may render a decision as to Bruno’s previous determination to sell the property and to shutter the church. The church itself will prosecute the case against the Bishop’s 2015 actions.

Staff explains in the report that the city’s role started in mid-2015, when members of St James spoke during a town hall meeting hosted by Dixon.

“Dixon and others have stated that the church is a fundamental part of the community, especially on the Balboa Peninsula,” staff notes.

This action would have formalized the Council’s support via a letter from Dixon to Reverend Canon Cindy Voorhees of St James in advance of the March 28 ecclesiastical trial.


Election Reform

Tuesday also brought up a topic that was discussed last year during the campaign: Election reform.

Council also unanimously approved forming an ad hoc committee to study and report back on the issue. The item also included appointments to the committee of council members Dixon, Peotter, and Jeff Herdman, who often spoke about the issue during his 2016 campaign.

“There is a need to develop and implement campaign contribution disclosures, empower the city attorney to enforce campaign codes and laws, and limit the amount and time duration of when campaign donations can be made in order to bring city council elections back to the purpose of electing the best qualified candidates,” Herdman told the NB Indy in October.

City staff note in their report that concerns have been raised regarding alleged  election issues and potential reforms during the past several city elections. Issues like use of the city seal, fundraising limits, and enforcement of election rules.


Waterfront Project Guidelines

The Council was also slated to vote Tuesday, again via the consent calendar, on an item regarding updating the waterfront project guidelines and standards, including harbor design criteria for commercial and residential facilities.

At the request of staff, the item was continued indefinitely. City Manager Dave Kiff said they do hope to return with the item fairly soon, but this will give them some extra time to work out the details.

The revisions are meant to correct various inconsistencies, as well as to make overall improvements to the current 2008 version.


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