Newport Beach City Council candidates had a busy week of forums, one more casual, discussion-like, another small, neighborhood-focused, and another moderated by local students who will be voting for the first time in November.
They discussed a range of topics, including which candidates were notably absent from several of the forums.
At Feet to the Fire at Orange Coast College in Costa Mesa on Friday, none of the four incumbents (Marshall “Duffy” Duffield, Scott Peotter, Kevin Muldoon, and Diane Dixon) attended the event, moderated by local journalists.
Duffield also skipped both the Balboa Island Improvement Association at the B.I. Fire Station on Saturday and Corona del Mar Residents Association at the OASIS Senior Center on Wednesday.
The missing candidates didn’t go unnoticed. At the CdMRA forum, a name placard and empty chair sat in Duffield’s place. At the F2F forum, several said that failing to face the public and answer questions was discouraging.
All four challengers attended all three forums: Mike Glenn, Tim Stoaks, Roy Englebrecht, and Joy Brenner.
Who shows up and who doesn’t also influences the dynamics of the campaign, Barbara Venezia, F2F co-creator and Daily Pilot columnist, pointed out.
“They’re not engaging with the public… so that leads me to believe that their strategy is going to be through the mail,” Venezia said.
Some candidates “send out massive amounts of mail,” and win votes that way, Glenn said.
But there is a strong grassroots effort in the city now, several candidates at the F2F forum agreed.
Citing the overwhelming voter defeat of Measure Y and the petition to fight the prior Council’s decision on the Museum House condominium tower project, Stoaks noted the strong “ground game” in Newport Beach.
“The proof is in the pudding,” Stoaks said. “We’ve had two successful resident-driven ground games that showed the great numbers.”
The Museum House vote and the resulting petition, which included “hire-a-thug,” as Brenner described them, really fired up the residents, she agreed. Previously, people with differing opinions would both be at the table, talking side-by-side.
“It has never been like this before,” Brenner said. “It’s a whole new ballgame in Newport.”
Asking questions during the Feet to the Fire forum, Norberto Santana Jr., founding publisher of Voice of OC, spoke about district only voting versus Newport’s current citywide process. He pointed out that emphasizing the importance of grassroots politics while also supporting the citywide voting system (which most candidates indicated earlier and at other forums) are opposing or inconsistent ideas.
“When you’re asked about district elections, all of you are ok with an at-large system, except for Mike Glenn, that frankly goes exactly the opposite of everything that you just said,” Santana said. “An at-large system, and what you have in Newport Beach, is kind of like a fake district system, it kind of fools the voters to think that you’re representing one district, but you’re actually running at large.”
Englebrecht said if the idea of a district only voting system was brought up he would support it if it was “the will of the people.”
“It’s not me, it’s what the people of the city want,” Englebrecht said.
“But you don’t see a clear benefit for one or the other?” Santana questioned. “Because it sounds, frankly, wishy washy, you both are saying the same thing, ‘Whatever the voters say, I’ll do, but I don’t have an opinion’”
Brenner previously thought district voting would be a better system, partly because it would be a fraction of the cost to run for Council, but after meeting people through campaigning in all areas of Newport Beach, she likes the current citywide system.
“I’m not married to either position,” Brenner said.
In Newport Beach, while residents in every district of the city can vote on all candidates, only one from each district is chosen. Although, all seven City Council members vote on issues across the entire city.
“I know Corona del Mar, I’ve been there 57 years, but I have to vote on things that affect our entire city,” Brenner said. “So, through this process, I am learning a lot more about the things that I have to take a stand on.”
This process has helped her hear the residents’ concerns, so she can be educated on the issues and address them, Brenner explained.
There are unintended consequences of a district election, like focusing unfairly on projects in their own district in order to be re-elected or people who move to a district just to get elected on Council, a few of the candidates pointed out.
Venezia questioned Glenn about his critics who have pointed out that he “moves to different districts to run,” referencing that he ran for Council two years ago, but in a different district.
“I have had a place on both Balboa Peninsula and Balboa Island for many years now,” Glenn said. “I live both places. It’s not like I live in Los Angeles… I live across the bay from each house.”
He used his Balboa Island home as his residence in 2016, he said.
Both F2F and CdM Residents Association forums brought up the gender dynamics of the campaign and women in government.
“That makes it a little bit different in this day and age, of what you can say and what you can’t say, and what’s politically correct,” Venezia said.
She pointed out that Glenn posted Dixon’s home address on social media, which some people thought was “questionable,” Venezia said.
Glenn responded by stating his address.
“I think if you’re going to have a representative, you should know where they are in your community,” Glenn said. “When you have somebody that is refusing to listen to the people I see no problem protesting outside of their house.”
Maggie Pretsch, a senior at CdM High School and part of the school’s Academy of Global Studies, the student group that moderated the CdMRA event, asked about bringing about greater gender parity in local government.
Dixon mentioned the Women in Newport Networking group she helped create. It was a major goal of hers when elected and she discovered how few women there were on the city’s committees and commissions.
“Many, many, many women serve in leadership positions on nonprofit boards,” Dixon said. “My goal is to encourage that same leadership capability and quality to apply to serve in public service in our Council boards and commissions.”
They don’t need to be a subject expert to serve, they just need to care about the city and quality of life in Newport Beach, Dixon added.
Brenner also noted WINN, saying Dixon has made a real effort to get more women to apply for committees and commissions in the city.
“I’m doing my part, I’m trying to add another woman to the City Council,” Brenner said.
The new city manager, Grace Leung, is the first in the role in the city’s history, Muldoon pointed out. It’s about treating everyone with love and respect, he added.
“Gender shouldn’t matter, we’re all human beings,” Muldoon said.
Peotter pointed out that he appointed women to both the Finance and Airport committees. He looks forward to working with more women, he added.
The CdM Residents Association forum included several yes or no questions, including building a new police station (Englebrecht and Peotter were on the fence, the rest supported the idea), running for higher office (all answered no), and if they owned a home in which they currently live (Glenn and Peotter said no, the rest answered yes).
Student moderators Sujata Tewari and Peter Larsen at the Corona del Mar forum also asked about environmental issues.
Dredging needs to be done in the harbor, Peotter pointed out, which will improve the overall water quality of the bay. Dixon also mentioned the harbor, a huge economic benefit for the entire city, and that the water needs to be protected.
“Having clean water in our harbor, in our back bay, on our oceanfront, clean beaches, that is absolutely vital to protect those natural resources… to ensure that they exist for years to come because they are so economically important,” Dixon said.
Airport pollution also impacts the city.
“The planes that fly over our heads are distributing this black soot over our community,” Stoaks said.
Planes flying higher, earlier will help, he added.
Upstream trash flowing into the Back Bay is an important issue that needs to be addressed, Stoaks noted out. Several candidates mentioned the debris collecting water wheel project, which was approved with grant funding by City Council earlier this week.
Runoff is a big issue, Muldoon said. Trash from other inland communities builds up in the bay, like Styrofoam cups.
“It’s really heartbreaking,” Muldoon said.
The water wheel has worked well in Baltimore, Muldoon said, so they are hoping for similar success in Newport.
Englebrecht said young kids need to be educated on the issues so they appreciate the environment. Brenner added that visitors also need to be educated.
Brenner also mentioned eliminating chemical weed killers and instead using natural products to clean up the city parks.
“Water, land, air, we’ve got it all,” Glenn said.
Glenn mentioned adding a better grate system on the streets, to help stop the trash before it enters the bay.
Other topics in both forums included their top issues for the city, first projects, Measure T, homelessness, airport issues, development, crime, role of committees and commissions, sanctuary cities, and more.