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In-depth study needed for Newport Beach city hall proposal

November 27, 2005

The answer to the questions about whether to build a new city hall and whether to move it can best be determined after a thorough study of departmental interactions and communication needs, user requirements and traffic patterns, existing and projected workload, present and projected staffing patterns and the myriad other details that are part of day-to-day operations.

It is only through this kind of nitty-gritty data gathering and analysis that real staffing, space and departmental requirements can be determined. With this information in hand, it becomes relatively easy to analyze costs and make decisions about relocating or rebuilding, and consolidation or separation. The last step in the process is the decision about whether to build, buy or lease.

Having done this kind of work for many years as a consultant to institutional clients, including the Mayo Clinic and the University of California, I can testify that it is tough, time-consuming and expensive. Employees must be interviewed in depth; workflow must be observed and measured; projections of future needs must be made. Sadly, this is where some of the $625,000 already blown on the civic center project should have first been spent.

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City staff will tell you that this work has already been done. I've seen little evidence that it has been completed in the depth and detail necessary to support the present course of action or to convincingly answer the questions being raised by opponents of the present plan.

After recently watching all of the essentially ineffective deliberations of the City Council's Marinapark ad hoc committee, I am convinced that using the ad hoc approach to the city hall decision will work only if such a group is provided with independent professional staff. Private people don't have the time or the expertise for detailed space planning work.

Using city staff, as has been the practice in the past, will take us right around in a circle. They're nice people, but they don't have the expertise, the motivation, the accountability or the leadership to handle the task. A committee, however well intentioned, is likely to be unable to provide technical direction to their work.

Bite the bullet. Take a page from the federal government's often-used approach to sensitive and controversial subjects such as military base closings, CIA leaks and similar matters. Form the committee with a strong chairman and the best and most experienced minds in town (don't include council members), then let them seek competitive proposals from several nationally recognized space planning firms to serve as their staff.

The firm selected would report directly to the ad hoc committee and be paid from a committee budget. They would do the field work and draft conclusions and recommendations for committee review. A final report would be prepared for council and would be made public.

It won't be cheap, but it might get the job done right and with enough independence to be credible.

JOSEPH F. O'HORA

Balboa Peninsula

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