After 20 years of serving the city of Newport Beach, Friday marks the last official day of work for retiring City Manager Dave Kiff.
“The honor of my lifetime,” Kiff said in an email this week. “It’s that simple.”
Kiff joined city staff in 1998 as the assistant to the city manager and was gradually promoted, moving into the city manager position in 2009.
According to the city website, he is responsible for the city government’s operation and policy implementation, directs 10 departments and 725 fulltime employees, and manages an annual budget of approximately $260 million.
There are many highlights over the past two decades, he said.
Projects like Marina Park, Sunset Ridge Park, the Buck Gully Trail, and the children’s wing in the central library expansion always make him smile, he said. Also, how Balboa Peninsula has slowly evolved into a place where families feel like they fit in with all the other activities, he added.
“But the highlights I’ll remember most are working with my staff colleagues at the city, as well as City Council members,” Kiff noted. “I was able to work with some of the best professionals in the public sector, and that was such an honor.”
Dave 2.0 Jamfest, a community celebration for Kiff’s retirement, was held Thursday on the Civic Green at the Civic Center.
The event was hosted by the NB Chamber of Commerce and featured casual fun, food, games, and live music by Public Rocks, a band comprised entirely of public employees from Newport and other local municipalities.
Chamber President Steve Rosansky presented Kiff with a proclamation, honoring him and his work for the city.
There was also a literal baton for Kiff to “hand off” to Grace Leung, the incoming city manager.
A “fashion show” of sorts was also held, which featured outfits representing all the potential occupations of Kiff’s next chapter, or Dave 2.0, including dog walker and mountain hiker.
Kiff explained in an email that he will still be involved in Newport, there are a few issues he plans to continue to follow or work on in a different capacity.
Homelessness is one of those issues he’ll keep an eye on and continue working on. Kiff has been very involved in discussions on the subject, which has become more of a hot topic recently.
In April, Kiff was on the panel of a Speak Up Newport community meeting that addressed homelessness.
“It’s really troubling,” to see that many people in society without housing, Kiff said at the time.
At the April discussion, Kiff explained the county and city efforts on the issue. Solving the homelessness issue includes phases, he pointed out. Housing first and foremost, then solving the underlying issues, like mental health.
In an email this week, Kiff also added that he’ll continue working on issues related to John Wayne Airport.
“I’ll also try and help bring our recent airport efforts to a good conclusion – that being to see if we can collaboratively reduce noise and pollution from takeoffs,” he wrote.
Kiff has been heavily involved in JWA-related issues over the years, including the Federal Aviation Administration’s recent Next Generation Air Transportation System program.
NextGen is an FAA modernization program being implemented at airports across the country. It incorporates less fanning and more narrowing of the flight paths, which has had some negative impacts on Newport Beach.
“NextGen is bad for Newport Beach,” Kiff stated at a study session in October.
In October, Kiff explained the program and gave an update on the issue for City Council.
“People should hold out hope that this can and will be improved, and that we are working on it diligently,” Kiff wrote in his Insider’s Guide newsletter in October.
In January, the city reached a tentative agreement with the FAA regarding flight paths. The FAA agreed that flight paths will stay between the existing noise monitors and that a “precision-based” departure procedure that follows the curves of the Upper Newport Bay will be studied and designed for JWA.
Kiff has also worked to extend the city’s airport agreement with the County of Orange.
As for his next steps after retirement, Kiff plans to take a little time off before taking on a short-term (three month) role helping the Orange County Alliance of Cities continue some of the progress they have made on key regional issues.
Kiff announced his plans for retirement in March, amid rumors that several Council members pressured him into leaving before his contract is up in April 2019.
Residents crowded Council meetings to question Council members’ motives and to support Kiff, commending him for his knowledge, dedication, integrity, and work ethic.
Residents have called Kiff a “terrific” public servant, unmatched in his ability, professionalism, openness, dedication and strong ethics.
“Your knowledge, dedication, integrity, work ethic, and accomplishments are second to none,” said former Mayor Mike Henn at a Council meeting earlier this year.
He has always gone above and beyond, others noted. Several noted that he will leave big shoes to fill.
Regarding the controversy surrounding his retirement, Kiff looked at it from a pragmatic viewpoint.
“Everyone is replaceable, including me,” Kiff noted. “I was a guy who worked hard, but made my share of mistakes. I am so glad to hand off my role to someone as competent and thoughtful as Grace Leung. This alone will both serve the community well and move the ball forward.”
On Aug. 14, City Council unanimously selected Grace Leung as the next city manager.
Kiff’s last day will be Friday and Leung will assume the top administrative spot on Tuesday. For the few days in between, Assistant City Manager Carol Jacobs will assume the role.
She was most recently acting city manager in Irvine, where she had previously been assistant city manager. Prior to Irvine, Leung worked for six years as the director of finance for the city of Sunnyvale.
Kiff also shared some words of wisdom with the incoming city manager.
“Remember that the core of Newport Beach is a huge percentage of residents who are smart, thoughtful, kind people and who care deeply about their town,” Kiff said.
A Few More Photos of City Manager Dave Kiff From Past Events and Projects