Newport Beach is a special place for many reasons, but perhaps more because of the people here that make a difference


It’s pretty obvious that Newport Beach has many things going for it.

Whether it is our harbor, beaches, great shopping, dining as well as a variety of excellent hotels and home rentals, we are blessed with many riches. But in the end, what really makes us successful as a place to visit?

I was thinking about this question a lot in the last few weeks especially after attending a convention of my peers where violent crime, divisive social issues and a declining workforce were all top of mind and frankly it was all everyone wanted to talk about.

I was hoping we could all discuss cool new restaurants opening in other cities, but many opted to discuss only murder rates and economic disenfranchisement. For several places, those issues are real.

Fortunately, our little hamlet in a bubble doesn’t have too many of those painful problems. Most of our issues deal with managing our success whether it is development, congestion, or airport noise. There has been talk of rising crime locally, but it still doesn’t come close to big cities.

Gary Sherwin

Click on photo for a larger image

Courtesy of Visit Newport Beach

Gary Sherwin

Even our redevelopment areas such as around the Newport Pier is certainly necessary and important, but in other communities, that part of town would be considered perfectly fine. That’s a testament to our high standards as a city.

But after chewing on this for a while, I’m convinced that our competitive advantage is something else entirely. 

The secret is it’s our community.

If you have lived anywhere else for any length of time, you’ve come to appreciate the uniqueness of how Newport Beach operates. It is a city that is generous in spirit as well as its dollars.

The most obvious example of that is the Christmas Boat Parade and Ring of Lights. In many coastal cities, boat owners throw up a string of lights on their small dingy and call it a day. Here people have been known to spend tens of thousands of dollars to hire professional decorators, or even Disney Imagineers, to create a watery visual masterpiece for the enjoyment of others. Anyone who attends the parade each year can attest to the investment people make just so others can enjoy it, making their holidays a bit brighter.

The homeowners around the harbor do the same by designing amazing holiday lights delighting young and old alike. Combined with the parade itself, we can proudly say we are just about as magical during the holiday season as Disneyland up the road.

But all this comes about because of our residents and their personal investment. I suspect that nearly $1 million is spent annually to decorate boats and homes as well as operational expenses such fuel costs, electricity and boat crews over five nights.

What other city can do that?

That’s a grand example. How about the large turnouts to honor our police and fire departments during their appreciation events? They sell out each year and are packed with residents and local dignitaries. While many cities are dealing with the complex and difficult relationships with their public safety professionals, we celebrate them and let them know how important they are to us.

How about the Friends of the Newport Beach Animal Shelter which has raised nearly $3 million to build a quality new facility for our furry friends? Or the Newport Beach Library Foundation that has contributed nearly $7 million over the last decade to help support programming and infrastructure? If you have ever attended one of the annual Witte Lectures, which brings world-class notable speakers to town, you’ll appreciate how important they are. 

And this doesn’t even include the upcoming new $14 million library lecture hall which is a partnership venture with the city and will be a vital new community meeting space.

There’s more. The Newport Beach Junior Lifeguard Foundation also partnered with the city to build a new building near the pier. They had a fundraising goal of $1.75 million. They raised more than $1.8 million. The Coastal Commission recently signed off on the project and hopefully construction should start soon.

It doesn’t stop there. The Balboa Island Museum is a true local treasure thanks to the devoted work of resident Shirley Pepys and her army of volunteers. Just a few years ago, they were in a small storefront on Marine Avenue and now, thanks to a generous local benefactor, they moved to a much larger space and created a wonderful museum that explores our city’s history. This achievement has not gone unnoticed. This week they were named “Best Museum in the OC” by the LA Times Readers “Best of” survey. Now they are eyeing expansion again thanks to the fundraising generosity of the community.

Hitting closer to home, the Newport Beach tourism industry also has been a financially generous partner, offering free rooms and vacation packages to local charities. Even more significantly, the largest hotels also assess themselves to help promote the marketing of the city, generating $5 million to supplement the city’s funding so our community can effectively compete on the world’s tourism stage. The hotels didn’t have to do this, but they do so our city can attract more visitors from nearby cities at no cost to local government.

On top of all that, you also have tremendous local business investment. Newport Beach’s Eagle Four Partners now owns three luxury hotels and the Newport Beach Country Club and has been investing considerable dollars in all of them. The Pyle family bought the Fun Zone, a treasured piece of our local history and is now upgrading it without damaging its old school reputation.

It goes without saying that the Irvine Company, the city’s largest landowner, is always investing in the city and has a huge charitable arm especially with nearby UC Irvine, its public schools and preservation of open land.

I’m sure there are many other acts of local generosity that I am missing. But add it all up and you have a remarkable commitment to community excellence that revels anything you can find in a much larger metropolis.

In the waning days of summer as we enjoy our beautiful city, take time to not only look at the sea, but at your neighbor next door. That person, as well as many others, is probably the reason our city is as exceptional as it is.

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