RIGONOMICS:City Hall land talks not smart

August 04, 2007|By JIM RIGHEIMER

It is heating up here in Newport Beach as proponents of the "City Hall in the Park" initiative gather their signatures. Meanwhile, the City Council majority is getting plans ready to build a $5 million passive park on the same site.

City Councilman Keith Curry, who penned a column against the initiative, called me to discuss our differences on the issue. Before I talk about our differences, let me say Curry is an engaging advocate for not locating the City Hall next to the library on Avocado Avenue. He thinks the OCTA site up the street would be a better location for City Hall. Though I completely disagree with him on this issue, the people of Newport should be glad to have a councilman of his caliber representing them. Curry comes out of the John Moorlach mold: elected officials not afraid to speak their minds.

My issues are simple: What is doable, and how much will it cost the taxpayers? To that end, the city has commissioned a study known to all as the DMJM study. What the study says is Newport would save $10 million building on the land next to the library. You would think that might settle the issue. That isn't chump change.


This $10 million in savings does not take into account the fact that the land is already owned by the city. If you read my previous column, you will remember I valued the land at $21 million. That would make a savings of $31 million to the taxpayers by voting for the initiative.

The opposition disagrees, saying the city is required to replace the park land somewhere else in the city and therefore you cannot count the $21 million savings. Really? Last time I drove by the site it was still a vacant lot, not a park.

They might have some argument had a park already been built; but it is not. The city is under no obligation that a majority vote of the council can't solve.

Now let's look at what is doable: On the library site, we do not have to negotiate price or terms with anyone. We already own it. The other site is owned by OCTA. Has anyone even asked OCTA what they think? Last I checked, the property was being used for buses. OCTA has in no way, shape or form approved selling, relocating or swapping any site with the city.

And the property the city wants to swap with OCTA is owned by the Irvine Co. Do we have a price for that parcel? Will they even sell it?

I have done enough negotiations in my life to know you do not want to get yourself into any negotiations involving two other parties that have no reason to do anything.

Why would OCTA want to move the bus transfer station? If you do not think they know how to negotiate, ask the bus drivers who just ended their strike.

Let's not fool ourselves. This issue will be on the ballot, and like it or not, the citizens of Newport Beach will be making the decision.

The City Council should slow down on plans to build a park until the voters have had a chance to speak. That vote will give the council all the direction it needs.

  • JIM RIGHEIMER is a Costa Mesa planning commissioner, a local developer and a GOP activist.

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