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Civic center lends itself to debate

Assembly candidates take aim at their competition, Curry, over the new City Hall complex, but Newport councilman lauds the project.

April 10, 2014|By Emily Foxhall
  • Speak Up Newport hosted candidates in the California Assembly District 74 race for a forum Wednesday night. From left to right: Keith Curry, Emanuel Patrascu, Matthew Harper and Anila Ali.
Speak Up Newport hosted candidates in the California… (George Schroeder )

When the expensive new civic center opened in Newport Beach last year, some claimed it as a symbol of an irresponsible government out of touch with the people it represented.

Councilman Keith Curry served as mayor at the time. He has embraced the project, which ultimately cost the city nearly $140 million, as an example of quality work that will meet the needs of the community for decades to come. He noted that the project is more than just a City Hall; it comprises a library, park, emergency center, community room and parking structure.

Nearly a year after the building opened, the project continues to follow Curry, now a candidate for California's 74th State Assembly District.

Supportive of leaving local issues to local government, Curry explained that those who tried using the project against him should instead be focusing on the important topics in the race.

"The issues that we should be talking about in this campaign are creating jobs, cutting taxes, protecting Proposition 13 and improving our schools," Curry said in an interview Thursday. "My opponents are in the cul-de-sac of fire rings," a reference to Newport's effort to regulate the fire pits that dot the beach areas and Huntington Beach's effort to leave them alone.

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During a forum hosted by community group Speak Up Newport on Wednesday night, Curry and his opponents answered questions that ranged from how they were most qualified for the seat to what they thought about the "split roll" property tax. But Curry also fielded a question about the very place where they sat: the Civic Center.

Toward the end of the evening, the four candidates present — Curry, Huntington Beach Mayor Matthew Harper, Irvine teacher Anila Ali and Emanuel Patrascu, district director for Assemblyman Travis Allen (R-Huntington Beach) — were each allowed to ask a question of another.

Petrascu took the chance to press Curry on allegations that extra spending on the civic center went toward helping the architect enhance the space in order to win awards.

Petrascu prodded Curry on whether such motivations represented conservative values. (He, Curry and Harper are Republicans, while Ali and Santa Ana community activist Karina Onofre, absent that evening, align with the Democratic Party.)

"Mediocrity in urban design is not a conservative value," the Newport Beach councilman retorted, describing the project to the roughly 50 people in attendance as a tangible contribution to the improvement of the quality of life.

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