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Candidates debate issues in SUN forum

Tom headshot 8.25.20Wednesday of this week I had the honor of moderating a panel of the candidates running for City Council in November. The event was organized by Speak Up Newport, the city’s preeminent group for presenting the debate on important community issues.

The program was recorded and is available here in its entirety. Five candidates participated, beginning with opening statements (7:21). Times for specific portions of the meeting are presented to enable readers to find answers to issues near-and-dear to them.

In District 7, Mayor Will O’Neill offered up an opening statement, but because he is running unopposed, he ceded his remaining time to the other candidates with contested races.

The other two districts feature incumbent and Mayor Pro Tem Brad Avery vs. Nancy Scarbrough in District 2 and incumbent Jeff Herdman vs. Noah Blöm in District 5.

A number of issues were discussed during the 62-minute Zoom presentation in various question formats. However, due to some Zoom-related technical issues during the first portion only, I’ve included the answers below.

The first portion (13:56) asked each candidate for a simple grade from 1-10, with 10 being best, on multiple Council actions. Their grades are as follows:

–How good of a job is the current City Council doing in managing the COVID-19 crisis? 

Nancy Scarbrough - 8

Brad Avery - 9

Noah Blöm - 8

Jeff Herdman - 10

–How good of a job has the current City Council done in managing the budget in light of the $33m shortfall? 

Scarbrough - 9

Avery - 10

Blöm - 10

Herdman - 10

–How good of a job is the current City Council doing in managing traffic flow in the city? 

Scarbrough - 6

Avery - 8

Blöm - 7

Herdman - 8

–How good of a job is the current City Council doing in managing the John Wayne Airport situation?

Scarbrough - 2

Avery - 10

Blöm - 5

Herdman - 10

The next part of the first portion presented an issue and asked for a Yes or No answer, no discussion. Their answers were as follows:

Considering the City’s current budget situation should City funds be used to subsidize the proposed Library Lecture Hall once the budget crisis passes?

Scarbrough - Yes

Avery - Yes

Blöm - Yes

Herdman - Yes

–Should the Flower Streets in Corona del Mar be one way?

Scarbrough - No

Avery - Yes

Blöm - No

Herdman - Yes

–Should electric bicycles be banned from the Oceanfront boardwalk?

Scarbrough - Yes

Avery - Yes

Blöm - Yes

Herdman - Yes

–Do you support a cap on the number of short-term lodging units in the city? 

Scarbrough - Yes

Avery - Yes

Blöm - No

Herdman - Yes

–Given that the City is required to provide 4,832 dwelling units in the housing element would you now be in favor of the Museum House residential project in Newport Center?

Scarbrough - No

Avery - No

Blöm - Yes

Herdman - No

–Should the City more aggressively enforce COVID-19 regulations? 

Scarbrough - Yes

Avery - Yes

Blöm - No

Herdman - Yes

Portion 3 (19:21) included a series of questions asking for 20-second answers. The questions asked are below and their answers can be found on the video link.

–Traffic is one of the top issues cited by Newport Beach residents citywide. Groups such as Line In The Sand and Still Protecting Our Newport cite over-development as a significant factor in excessive traffic. In addition to what the city is already doing, what new ideas do you have to address the problem?

–Many residents feel the constant noise of construction in their neighborhoods is intolerable. What would you do about this problem if elected to the City Council? 

–With the state mandate on dwelling unit numbers do you support adding over five-story high-rise residential in Newport Center? Yes or No and Why or Why Not? 

–Arguably, besides Coast Highway though Corona del Mar, Mariner’s Mile is the most visible icon of traditional Newport Beach character to those driving Coast Highway through Newport Beach. If elected, would you propose to reverse the City Council decision to add the third lane? Yes or No and Why or Why Not? 

–Recently the City Council decided to suspend the General Plan in favor of pursuing the Housing Element. This will entail amending the Land Use Element and Circulation element without a comprehensive General Plan update. Do you agree with the City Council decision? Yes or No and Why or Why Not? 

–Both Federal and State agencies are increasingly placing requirements for local agencies to address sea level rise. Since so much of Newport Beach is susceptible to sea level rise do you think the city should aggressively pursue an adaptive plan for sea level rise? Yes or No and Why or Why Not? 

–Although recently overshadowed by COVID-19, homelessness is still a major issue. The City is required to provide a 70-bed shelter and is in active negotiations with Costa Mesa on a shared facility. If those negotiations fail, specifically, where in Newport Beach do you feel such a shelter should be located?

–Traditionally the City Council takes a hand’s off approach on school district projects. In the recent controversy regarding tree removal at Ensign Middle School to the dismay of some area residents, do you think the City Council should have taken a more aggressive position on this issue? Yes or No and Why or Why Not? 

–Given the recent problems with early prison releases resulting in a strain on police resources in Newport Beach are you in favor of increasing police funding levels and, if so, where would the funding come from? 

Portion 4 (39:48) included a series of questions that can be found below asking for 45-second answers. Again, the answers can be found on the video link.

–At a previous forum, all of your answers, with a few exceptions, were pretty much the same. Please explain the one issue (or characteristic) you believe most differentiates you from your opponent.

–Do you believe the current City Council is being transparent with the City’s residents? Yes or No and Why or Why Not? 

–Newport Beach has a Council-Manager form of government. Almost two years ago the City Council revised Council Policy A-1 allowing the Mayor to place items on the Council agenda at the Mayor’s discretion. This is a departure from past procedures where the City Manager placed items on the agenda and the City Council as a whole could vote to place items on the agenda. It now allows the Mayor to place actions on the agenda at the Mayor’s discretion without concurrence from the City Council. Do you believe this has given the mayor too much power? Yes or No and Why or Why Not?

(Editor’s note: Council A-1 was revised to eliminate this provision)

–The City, AirFair, Airport Working Group and other civic groups have been working on containing the noise and traffic from John Wayne Airport. Some residents are not satisfied that enough is being done. In addition to what already is being done what new ideas do you have? 

–One of the biggest financial issues facing the City of Newport Beach is the unfunded liability for City employee pensions through the PERS plan. The City Council opted to continue to accelerate its PERS payments in the current budget. If the current budget revenue projections fall short mid-budget year, should the city cut the accelerated pension program in order to maintain the current levels of service to its residents?

–This is a District specific question for each of you. What is the most important issue in your district and how would you address it? 

–The City Council has objected to the 4,832 required RHNA housing units as excessive and appealed that number. However, even if the 4,832 RHNA housing units are reduced, Newport Beach will still be required to provide a significant number of housing units. Where would you place these housing units?

The last portion included the closing statements from each candidate (1:02:12). 

I commend all of the candidates for putting their hats into what many would consider a contentious circle in a very difficult time.

My best to each.

• • •

So I went to my cardiologist, Richard Haskell, M.D., this week for a routine six-month check-up. Fortunately, everything seems good.

I did tell him that unfortunately I’ve put on some weight during this pandemic time. 

He smiled and said, “That’s your COVID 19, now it’s up to you to flatten the curve,” pointing to my belly.

Thanks, Doc.

• • •

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