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Take Five: Will O’Neill talks about his tenure as Mayor of Newport Beach

By DIANNE RUSSELL

In 2020, Will O’Neill became the youngest person to serve as Mayor of Newport Beach in the past 50 years. During that year, he –and the city – faced unforeseen challenges and, at the same time, witnessed the unparalleled response to these demands.

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Photos courtesy of Will O’Neill

Mayor Will O’Neill riding in the Balboa Island Parade with his wife, Jenny and children, Aubrey and Sean

In December 2023, the Newport Beach City Council voted unanimously to have him serve a second term as mayor. Stu News caught up with O’Neill to gather some insight into the challenges – and plans – for the remainder of his term.

Q: What are the top issues you and the council are facing this year?

A: State-wide policies tend to create most of the top issues that our council will continue to face throughout 2024. Property crime has risen with a large share coming from gangs who travel in from a different county, sometimes a different country. We must continue to fund our public safety so that we can recruit the best, train the best and retain the best. I also expect that we will be placing a ballot proposition on the November election in which we ask residents of Newport Beach to approve a General Plan update to accommodate the housing mandated by the state.

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Assemblywoman Diane Dixon, former Mayor Kevin Muldoon, Mayor Will O’Neill, Director of Public Works Dave Webb and Fire Chief Jeff Boyles at the new fire station ribbon cutting

Q: Since you are terming out at the end of 2024, what do you hope to accomplish before leaving office?

A: I ran in 2016 on a platform of fiscal conservativism and a focus on core infrastructure. Over the past seven years, we finally replaced two fire stations and the Corona del Mar Library. We purchased property for the site of our future Police Station without taking on debt.  We have paid down the Civic Center debt by tens of millions of dollars.  And this year, we will be opening the Newport Beach Junior Lifeguard building, funding necessary (and significant) maintenance in our dozens of parks, and likely awarding a bid to re-construct the fire station and library at the end of the Peninsula. Councilman Brad Avery and I will walk away handing over upgraded core infrastructure with a very strong balance sheet. Our city’s future is bright and in great hands in 2025.

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(L-R) Councilmember Brad Avery, Councilmember Robyn Grant, Mayor Pro Tem Joe Stapleton, Mayor Will O’Neill, Councilmember Lauren Kleiman and Councilmember Erik Weigand at the Balboa Island Parade

Q: What have been your biggest challenges?

A: 2020. Period. Full stop. That year will go down as perhaps the most challenging in our city’s history. Our city will never forget the helicopter crash that stole lives from the Bryant, Altobelli, Chester, Mauser and Zobayan families. We won’t forget the lives lost to COVID. We won’t forget the myriad bad public policy decisions made.  We won’t forget how Newport Beach stood strong for nuance and liberty. We won’t forget the way that our community rallied around our Police Department because our officers deserved the praise and support. We won’t forget the many volunteers who stepped up and tightened the bonds in our community. What was the biggest challenge turned out to also be the greatest example of our community’s resilience, and I was fortunate and blessed to be mayor.

Q: What are you most proud of during the time you’ve served?

A: I think that I’ll simply quote from Ronald Reagan’s last State of the Union address in which he said: “If anyone expects just a proud recitation of the accomplishments of my administration, I say let’s leave that to history; we’re not finished yet.” Similarly, and on a much smaller scale, our Newport Beach City Council isn’t finished yet!

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(L-R): Andrew Walker, Mayor Pro Tem Joe Stapleton, Julie Jacobs, Mayor Will O’Neill, Sean O’Neill, Jenny O’Neill, Aubrey O’Neill and Nikki DeLoach at opening night of the Christmas Boat Parade

Q: What legacy would you like to leave behind?

A: Rams’ fans might remember a highly prized center named Jason Brown. After his NFL career was over, he became a farmer and wrote a book about his experience. In the book, he advised that “if you’re really thinking about your legacy – what you want your memorial to the world to be – don’t build a statue. Concentrate on your children.” He’s right. My wife, Jenny, has been a saint about the many nights away that my time on City Council has required. And she’s an amazing partner as we raise our kids. This will be our last year of parades – my kids think it’s normal to be IN them rather than watching them – so I simply look forward to etching the images of their parade smiles into my memory.

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Is there anything else you would like readers to know?

One of Mr. Rogers’ most famous quotes came in response to an interviewer asking him how he handles the hard realities of this world.  He responded: “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’” Here in Newport Beach, we have a whole lot of people who are helpers. People who run toward the danger, who aid the marginalized, who sit and hold the grieving. We have people who experience loss and tragedy and wake up in the coming days looking for ways to make the world a better place. We’re not just looking for the helpers in 2024, we’re honoring them. My hope is that readers will help identify the helpers who deserve our recognition. If you have folks who fit the bill, then let’s talk.

Mayor Will O’Neill can be contacted at woneill@newportbeachca.gov.

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