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Arts center supporters add new leader

February 08, 2000

Noaki Schwartz

NEWPORT BEACH -- The committee for a proposed arts and education center

has added a new co-chair to deflect the criticism aimed at the group's

ambitious leader.

Don Gregory has been asked to help lead the Arts and Education Center

group, which is hoping to fuel the drive to build a $12-million center

adjacent to the city library.

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The group's effort to move forward has been slowed because its leader,

Jim Wood, has been involved in a roaring dispute between the Newport

Beach Library trustees and the Newport Beach Library Foundation, which

raises money for the library. Wood heads the library trustees.

"We're being drawn into the middle of this [library] controversy,"

Gregory said.

Committee members, worried that their plan had been pushed off course

because of the ongoing library fight, are hopeful that having Gregory

serve with Wood will give the project new momentum. Wood, the publisher

of Coast Magazine, could not be reached for comment.

With Gregory acting as co-chair, Wood's role will be lessened. He will no

longer be the group's spokesperson and will now do most of his work

behind the scenes.

The nagging library dispute, which surfaced last fall, has been a

struggle over financial control of the library foundation's money. The

fight culminated when the trustees threatened that, unless they received

greater clarity on how the foundation spends and accounts for its money,

it would evict the foundation from its one-room office in the library.

Members of the foundation, wounded by what they felt were unwarranted

accusations, said they were left bewildered by the allegations. Some

foundation members thought the dispute began when the foundation refused

to support Wood's vision of building a cultural center adjacent to the

library's Avocado Avenue home.

Foundation members said they suspect that ill will began bubbling to the

surface earlier last year when they refused to endorse the proposal for

the Arts and Education Center. Some went as far as to suggest that if the

center became part of the library, then trustees could potentially dip

into foundation money.

Community activist Elizabeth Stahr, who guided the foundation that raised

money to build the library, accused Wood of conflict of interest in

heading the two committees. She alleged Wood was raising funds for the

Arts and Education Center at library events -- in direct competition with

the library foundation.

Wood, however, denied the accusations and City Atty. Bob Burnham said

there was no such violation.

Despite Burnham's ruling, the arts center committee feels its mission has

suffered. Committee members who have taken the arts center proposal to

different citywide boards say they have met with a combination of support

and trepidation.

"Until we get out of the middle of this, everyone's afraid to talk,"

Gregory said, adding that the notion his group is trying to access the

library foundation's money is ludicrous, since it has its own foundation.

"[The center] has become a political football tied to the library," he

said.

Gregory says if the group can move out of the shadow of the library

fight, it might have more success when it approaches the council this

spring. The group wants the council to let it have the property next to

the library for $1 a year, allow it to form a board, and attain a

feasibility and traffic study.

"We're not asking for the money to build it," Gregory said. "We just want

to take the next step."

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