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,"
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
"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
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."