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Newport Beach

Volume 6, Issue 19  | March 5, 2021

Are we a city of 85,000, or a city of 7…villages?


Next time you bump into someone you don’t know, and they ask you where you’re from, how will you answer them?

Many people would answer the obvious: they’re from Newport Beach. But others may just as likely say Corona del Mar or Balboa Island or another place in the city.

Which poses the question: Are we a single, multi-dimensional city or just a collection of village-style neighborhoods?

What’s at stake here is not just place identification, but how Newport Beach governs itself and how we all interact with one another. If all that is important to you is your immediate neighborhood, you will look at issues much differently than you would if you are considering the overall health and vibrancy of the city as a whole.

Much has been said lately about the value of unity on a national level and to put artificial divisions aside in the interest of the greater good. It’s not red vs. blue as they say, but what is best for the collective United States of America.

Gary Sherwin

Click on photo for a larger image

Courtesy of Visit Newport Beach

Gary Sherwin

But if you look at it closely, we are doing much of the same thing here in town. While our City Council is elected by district but is voted on by the entire city, do citywide issues always take precedent over the concerns of neighborhoods? For a fairly small city of only 85,000 people, we are a remarkable collection of varied interests.

I rang up someone who has been closer to the issue than I have. Former Mayor Nancy Gardner has lived in CdM most of her life. She agrees and feels some of her neighbors identify more with CdM than the city at large.

Gardner said that only a handful of people will likely say Newport Beach is their hometown and instead proudly list CdM. She thinks much of that goes back decades before the city annexed the parcel years ago and that it has just been passed through the generations.

Check out even the gateway signs installed by the city: Corona del Mar is in big letters while the city is below it in smaller letters. Similar signs are at the entrances to the other neighborhoods as well. CdM even has its own separate Chamber of Commerce and post office.

Why does this matter? As we’ve seen nationally, a collective and cohesive country is stronger when all of it components work together to tackle tough problems. Case in point: City staff reports having a hard time engaging residents to participate in the updating of the General Plan which has ramifications on everyone in the city.

Gardner said that when she talks with her neighbors, they often are well-versed on Washington politics but often don’t know the name of their own mayor or any council members.

Chalk that up to 24/7 national cable news and the death of a viable daily community newspaper that unites everyone around local issues outside of their neighborhood.

Another reason is that we are a victim to our own success as a city. When crime is low and the standard of living is high, many residents are out enjoying their wonderful lives in Newport Beach and not worrying about municipal pension obligations. How many residents in Newport Coast are up at night worrying about the future of Mariner’s Mile? My guess is not many.

Also look at the homeless problem. When the city was considering various locales for a shelter, most of the discussion came down to NIMBYism (Not In My Backyard) rather than a thoughtful communitywide approach to solving this issue.

Housing and traffic are another one. Given the new state housing mandate, density and more population are going to be part of our future. But for many people, if it is shoved into someone else’s part of town, some folks feel it’s not such a pressing issue.

When Banning Ranch was being discussed for development, people were seemingly fine with putting development there, said former Mayor Ed Selich, since it was in a somewhat isolated part of town.

Selich faced the same thing when he represented Balboa Island for many years. A huge part of living on the island is the tight-knit community feeling that it has proudly embraced for years. Given how small most of the lots are, you are almost mandated to know your neighbors and work for the welfare of your neighborhood.

But these village issues can even overtake larger citywide issues such as when Balboa Island discusses underground utilities or the future of trees on Marine Avenue. For them, Newport Center is a world away. In Newport Center, noise at John Wayne Airport, a big issue for the island, just doesn’t appear to be a factor.

Our neighborhoods and villages are what make up the beautiful tapestry that defines Newport Beach. Having so much character and uniqueness spread across parts of town is a definite strength not a weakness.

But there are times when the larger good needs to transcend our neighborhoods. Even with our villages and the care they deserve, the reality is that our collective fates are tied to the overall success of the City of Newport Beach.

It might be a good idea for everyone to take a wider look at our civic life. Or at least learn who the mayor is.

Gary Sherwin is President & CEO of Visit Newport Beach and Newport Beach & Company.

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