From City Manager Dave Kiff
For my last handful of Insider’s Guides, I wanted to try to memorialize a few things in our community’s collective knowledge so that they are not forgotten as I head off to other ventures. Gosh, that sounds kind of pretentious as I write that, but it’s not intended to be. Let’s call this “So Please Don’t Forget This.”
So Please Don’t Forget This – Part 1 (June 22, 2018)
One of my favorite all-time projects that I ever worked on is Sunset Ridge Park. The Park today exists (NW corner of W Coast Highway and Superior Avenue) because it was willed into existence by Louise Greeley, who passed away at something like 92 years young a few years before the park was done in 2014. She invited me to her condo porch in Newport Crest when I first arrived here in 1998. We looked out toward a flat field that was “left over” from the never-done Coast Freeway right-of-way. She said, “this needs to be a ‘park for all ages,’ including a place for butterflies.” Today, the butterfly garden is named in her honor. Please don’t forget Louise Greeley. Second part of this is that, as you know, the park is up a slope. It’s a big slope. It has no parking lot and no easy way for Little League and soccer kids, parents and grandparents hauling chairs, drinks, snacks and equipment to get to it. Please also don’t forget that Sunset Ridge Park has a spot for a parking lot (behind the restrooms at the NW corner of the park) as well as an opportunity to have a pedestrian bridge allowing a near slope-less access way from parking on the NE side of Superior and W Coast Highway.
The City designed this Park with a parking lot, and went to the Coastal Commission with it in there. But the parking lot’s half-mile entry route – which involved land in the Banning Ranch - did not get approved. Rather than insist upon it with the Commission at the time and risk losing the park (passage was uncertain even without the parking lot road), we took what we could. So we have a park, but no easy parking. I would love to look back in a handful of years and see that our good Council and staff had found an easy way – either with that parking lot or the bridge (good news here – the bridge recently received OCTA funding, so it may be on its way!) – for folks to get to soccer and Little League, or to simply enjoy the great sunsets from the park. Insider’s secret: Much of the Coastal Commission’s debate on the Park rested upon the presence of a California native known as the California Brittlebush, or Encelia californica. While it nearly tubed our park, this is a genuinely beautiful native plant. To honor our Sunset Ridge effort, we made sure that there is at least one Encelia in the Civic Center Park. It survives today – it’s doing great, in fact. When I walk by it, I remember the Battle of Sunset Ridge.
So Please Don’t Forget This – Part 2 (July 6, 2018)
John Wayne Airport (JWA) is probably the thing that worries me the most when I think about impacts to our quality of life. Yes, that’s probably too dramatic. Someday, planes will be a lot quieter and/or they’ll take off nearly straight up. But until that time comes please don’t be complacent about JWA. Our forefathers and mothers in the early 1980s (primarily with a group called the Airport Working Group, but later assisted by SPON) sued to attempt to stop JWA’s expansion. That lawsuit resulted in the landmark 1985 JWA Settlement Agreement, which still stands today – and is unique across the country. Among other things, the Agreement sets in place the all-important curfew, a cap on the number of passengers that can fly out per year, and a cap on the “loudest” flights that can go out on an average day. All of these important things are subject to that Agreement’s survival.
I don’t worry too much about the Agreement surviving. I do worry about unexpected attacks on it, about when its next negotiations phase arrives (2027-ish?) and what happens after that. Our community has only succeeded in limiting the impacts of JWA when we have worked together. Not neighborhood-by-neighborhood, but as the entire city. Even then, the community hasn’t won every battle. For the battles ahead, our success rate will improve when we stick together. That means having some sympathy for those right under the flight paths, including realizing how those paths have changed over time. And if you’re not under the flight path, it means making sure that you still stay engaged with the larger city to make sure that JWA remains, overall, an airport that doesn’t overwhelm us. I am heartened now with the efforts of AWG, SPON/AirFair and CAANP to indeed stick together as we work on our latest JWA challenge (that being post NextGen implementation). To help us all not forget, we’ll soon send out a snail-mail community newsletter on the latest happenings regarding JWA. Each time we do this, we step back and work to re-educate the community about the Settlement Agreement and All Things JWA. So it’s a lot to read. But please read the newsletter when you get it, and please refer it to friends. By doing so, you help make sure no one gets complacent.
So Please Don't Forget This - Part 3 (July 6, 2018)
Lastly, a very important but short “So Please Don’t Forget This – Part 3” is about Newport Beach Lifeguard Ben Carlson. He passed away four years ago today (July 6, 2014), working to save a life in the tough waters south of the Newport Pier. No one expects to come to work and not make it home that night. Many, many will never forget Ben, and that’s as it should be.
So Please Don’t Forget This – Part 4 (July 19, 2018)
It’s about pensions and Cal-PERS. With full acknowledgement that I will be a pensioner soon. So take this with those grains of salt. I do think that the City Council, next City Manager, and our residents should be concerned about and knowledgeable about what is still a pension problem. Benefits are very generous for the funding levels of the Cal-PERS plan. That’s a problem. Don’t put it on mental autopilot.
As to specific and recent performance, PERS announced in recent days that the rate of return for July 1, 2017 through June 30, 2018 was 8.6 percent. PERS’ overall “funded status” is 71 percent (up from 68 percent last year). The 8.6 percent of course beats PERS’ long-term goal of 7.25 percent or 7.0 percent. But returns during the first six months of 2018 – incorporated into that 8.6 percent number – were dismal. Market instability ruled the day, and dampened returns. PERS’ total fund performance has seen an increase in 8.1 percent per year on average over the last five years, and 5.6 percent for the last 10 years, 6.1 percent for the last 20 years, and 8.4 percent over the last 30 years.
My point here is that the pension issue is both highly complex AND always something to follow. City managers will and should lose sleep over it. But please know that this City Council, as well as the prior one, has been very diligent about attacking the problem head-on. They have done so basically by paying more towards the unfunded pension obligation than the minimum requirement. This year we will pay about $9 million more, not counting a thing called a “Fresh Start” that also increased our minimum payments. And this has happened without jeopardizing public services. Other cities have not been as fortunate to be able to do this. On top of the amount the City government pays, employees will pay over $10 million a year as direct paycheck deductions, which can be up to 14 percent of a person’s wages depending on their job.
I spoke recently that I will miss two state elected officials a great deal. One is Jerry Brown (hear me out here please). The other is John Moorlach. Both have been diligent about trying to address our pension issues. Yes, I wish Governor Brown would have gone further with it. But he was uniquely able to move the ball forward as a Democratic governor. As to State Senator Moorlach, he comes at the issue from a knowledge base and a firm determination that is unmatched in the Legislature. He’ll keep trying.
While a political fix may not be in the cards, a judicial one might be. Two cases are at the CA Supreme Court that might dive into the concept of the “California Rule” (whereby benefits granted at time of hire cannot be changed throughout that hire’s tenure). The Court could find that a person’s years not yet worked could be subject to a negotiated benefit change. This would be significant if it occurred. Please don’t forget to stay knowledgeable about this issue – it’s important to not be boggled by its complexity.
So Please Don’t Forget This – Part 5 (July 19, 2018)
I’m too wordy already, so I will be brief here. Trees. Trees get old, and we (me) have to direct that they be taken out sometime. I hated every time I had to OK the removal of one of our beautiful street trees, especially those many great Eucalyptus that graced our town for so long. But today I look at places like Poppy Avenue and Irvine Avenue and am reminded that (Chinese proverb?) the second best day to plant a tree is now. The best time was 20 years ago. Hopefully we will all remember that our trees have life cycles, and that includes both planting new ones and removing old ones before they cause harm.