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Letters to the Editor

The Council got it right approving Lecture Hall project in November, we now need to do it again

Former Mayor Blom and Councilmember Kleiman have negotiated an agreement on behalf of the council with the Newport Beach Public Library Foundation to construct the Witte Lecture Hall. While I personally believe it contains some unfair conditions on the Library Foundation, I nonetheless support proceeding with the agreement negotiated by Councilmembers Blom and Kleiman and move forward in acknowledgement of the work they have devoted to this matter.

Bob McCaffrey has undertaken a social media campaign in opposition to this project. McCaffrey has consistently opposed public infrastructure investments over the years and is a person who has, in my opinion, contributed nothing to the betterment of our community.

But as every member of the city council and most members of the community who follow this issue are aware, McCaffrey’s social posts are completely false and misleading. The city is not being asked to fund a $23 million facility, it is being asked to match private donations for half of this amount to build a $23 million facility at half its cost to the public. By turning down the project the council would not be saving $23 million, they would be forfeiting $11.7 million in private donations. This would be an unconscionable failure of fiduciary duty to the taxpayers.

There are reasons why someone could be for or against this project, but affordability is not one of them.

The city has more than sufficient cash reserves to fund this project. Furthermore, the city has for decades now generated a healthy budget surplus at the end of each year. City projections are for significant annual increases in property taxes, sales taxes and hotel taxes as our new and refurbished hotels hit full stride in the market.

Given recent changes in the interest rate environment, it is very likely that should the council not wish to pay cash for its portion of the project, it could be financed in the 3.5% range over 10 years which would result in a debt service payment of approximately $1.2-$1.5 million annually. This would have no meaningful impact on the city budget or operations given the levels of city revenues.

Perhaps more troubling, the city has a long history of public/private partnerships. OASIS, the Jr. Guards facility, our new animal shelter and the library itself have been underwritten by private parties over the years to the tune of tens of millions of dollars. It is precisely this level of philanthropic involvement by our residents that has allowed us to enjoy the high quality of facilities that have characterized our community. By turning your back on the $11.7 million raised over several years by the Library Foundation, the council would be demonstrating bad faith that will cripple these efforts in the future. Simply put, the city will no longer be trusted to keep up its end of the deal.

There has also been some continuing discussion of making this a dual-purpose facility as a performing arts theater. While I am confident multiple uses can be accommodated in the lecture hall, this idea is not practicable at this time and to delay the project to pursue it is a red herring that would just result in higher costs due to extensive delays and scope creep.

The council got it right when it approved this project in November and I encourage the council to continue moving this important project forward.

Keith Curry, Former Mayor

Member, City Finance Committee

City of Newport Beach

Taking part in public/private partnership is a win/win for the community

I write in strong support of the proposed Witte Library Lecture Hall on the Agenda (tonight) Tuesday evening.

I served as the City Council representative on the Library Lecture Hall Design Committee from its inception in 2019 until I resigned my council position December 1, 2022 upon election to the State Assembly.

For more than 30 years as an executive in private industry responsible for philanthropic investments in our communities, as well as a member of the Newport Beach City Council, I have been a fierce advocate of public/private partnerships. These partnerships are fiscally smart and allow for community members to have “skin in the game” for public infrastructure projects that benefit the community at large. Among the projects recently funded under public/private partnerships have been The OASIS Senior Center, the Jr. Lifeguards facility and the new Animal Shelter.

The Witte Library Lecture Hall is a bargain for the city. A project estimated to cost $23 million will be funded 50% by the community and library donors and 50% by the City of Newport Beach.

As a former Chair of the Finance Committee, I am well versed in the available funds for this project and I am confident that the city’s 50% share can be fully funded without sacrificing any other projects or city operations.

For example, the City Facility Financing Plan (FFP) provides a model for assuring capital project funding without reducing operations of the city. Non-tax revenues from development fees are available through the FFP for projects like this one that enhance community amenities. These funds are reserved specifically for this type of capital project.

In addition, the city has substantial cash reserves of nearly $400 million. Finally, if the council chooses to do so, it can finance its $11.7 million portion of the project at an interest rate of approximately 3.5%.

In terms of return on investment, there is no other pending project where the city’s funds are leveraged for a 100% dollar-for-dollar match with private funds. In my opinion, it would indeed be a poor policy choice, and poor financial stewardship, to allow the $11.7 million from private donors to be lost.

It would also be an unfortunate choice if the city, with the ability to provide an outstanding community and educational resource at half its actual cost, should fail to take advantage of this unique opportunity. The Witte Lecture Hall will be a facility that will serve future generations of Newport Beach residents, and you can be justly proud of providing the leadership to make this project a reality.

I strongly and respectfully urge your support of the Witte Lecture Hall. Thank you for your consideration.

Diane Brooks Dixon

California’s 72nd Assembly District

City of Newport Beach, Mayor 2016 and 2019

Strongly oppose approval of Lecture Hall

(The following letter was directed to the Newport Beach City Council and cc’d to “Stu News Newport.”)

I strongly OPPOSE your approval of the construction of the proposed new Newport Beach Library Lecture Hall.

The primary reasons for opposition are as follows:

1. The original budget for this project was $8-9 million and the current estimate has grown to 300% of the original estimates or in excess of $24 MILLION ($24,000,000)!

2. Common sense and experience with a construction project of this size and nature indicates that it is extremely probable that the costs will increase during construction.

3. A recent publication ( comments that the “Anticipated Benefits of the New Facility:

With annual participation in library programming witnessing a significant increase, the community’s need for the new facility is palpable.” [Emphasis added.]

Question: How is “palpable” measured given the availability of literally 1,000s of seats in the City’s existing facilities including, but not limited to, the current main library meeting room, City Community room at City Hall, OASIS, Marina Park and any number of other City community centers located throughout the city plus the availability of other facilities available for rent such as the 6 Regal Edwards Cinemas withing walking distance of City Hall.

“The proposed lecture hall, with a seating capacity for up to 299 people, promises to enhance the attendees’ experience with improved sight lines and state-of-the-art audiovisual equipment.”

Comment: I have attended many meetings and lectures at multiple City facilities and have never had a problem with “site lines” and/or “a/v.”

If such problems exist at current facilities, they can be resolved for a lot less than $24 million.

1. Other City projects have higher need and benefits to the residents of Newport including street repairs, expansion of fire and police services.

2. The world is in an increasing position of uncertainty and the fiscal and fiduciary prudent action for City Council will be to provide for City reserve funds in the event of a future revenue decline.

Please VOTE NO on the proposed Library Lecture Hall.

Tom Callister

Corona del Mar

Now’s the time…let’s get this done

The future construction of Witte Hall goes before the Newport Beach City Council on Tuesday and as time has passed the cost has risen. We shouldn’t delay the construction any longer. It will be the completion of our beautiful Civic Center and will be a source of pride for the city’s citizens.

There is a fundamental misunderstanding concerning Witte Hall. Bill Witte and Keiko Sakamoto very generously gave a substantial commitment of $4 million toward the building of the hall and were given naming rights. It’s because of their gift – and not because of one of the Foundation’s many programs, the Witte Lecture Series, that it is called Witte Hall.

They gave their donation in support of a community hall that will service many performances given by the Newport Beach Public Library Foundation AND by various other groups who wish to make use of the hall’s facilities. That is key – the hall isn’t being built to service one of the Foundation’s lecture series, nor only Foundation programs, but will be used by civic and arts organizations as well as private businesses in Newport Beach.

The people of Newport Beach deserve a gathering place where they may share group experiences in business, the arts and sciences.

Lisa Edwards

Newport Beach

Naysayer can’t see long-term implications of Lecture Hall

Seldom right, but never in doubt. Yes, that’s an apt description of Mr. McCaffrey’s repeated rants concerning the cost of capital improvement projects in Newport Beach including the investment in our current Civic Center. This time his screed concerns the proposed world-class cultural Lecture Hall addition.

BTW, I am with the vast majority of residents who are super proud of our iconic Civic Center. Functional, beautiful, a fitting tribute to our shining city by the sea.

The Lecture Hall will be the crown jewel of the Civic Center complex. It will complete the campus.

Ronnie and I just returned from a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to travel to Australia/New Zealand. The trip included a visit to the Sydney Opera House.

We learned during our visit that the Opera House was well over its original budget.

But the Opera House visit absolutely “made” our trip – and I’m guessing that it is the highlight for many “Down Under” travelers.

It would be beyond inappropriate to compare the Opera House to our forthcoming Lecture Hall, but when reading Mr. McCaffrey’s penny-pinching tomes, please be reminded that the city will be receiving a donation of 50% of the cost of a world-class facility with no land cost.

If you are rightfully proud of the current Civic Center, you will be rightfully proud of the Lecture Hall – now and for decades and generations to come.

I described our trip as a once-in-a-lifetime travel opportunity; please support the Lecture Hall project as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to enrich the cultural, educational and informational fabric of Newport Beach.

Paul Watkins

Newport Beach

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