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10 questions for the decision makers

September 29, 2005|By: Burrell Clawson

I will be as brief and to the point as possible on the proposed new

Newport Beach civic center complex.

1. The cost: At $643 per square foot, it is about two times the

per-square-foot cost of what both Mission Viejo in 2002 and Rancho

Santa Margarita in 2004 spent on their city hall complexes. That is

not a Taj Mahal, but is it justified?

2. Financing to justify risk: The financing meeting (which I

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attended about two weeks ago) with the City Council had a finance

manager announcing that with the certificates of participation

financing the city has chosen, if a tsunami comes through and makes

the facilities unusable, the city can just walk away from the lease

with no more payments. The finance manager seemed to be proud of this

concept. (It is on the tape of the meeting.)

Given Katrina and similar storms (including Linda in 1997 near

Southern California), how could our city government survive being

only five feet above high tide in such a scenario? Why would any

thoughtful leader put a new and expensive city hall built to be used

for the next 50 or more years in harm's way, where even the bridge

and road access may be damaged?

That attitude is strangely similar to New Orleans. What disaster

plan would exist to move the entire operation to what other location.

Where and when do you plan it? How about we plan now?

3. Disasters: Conventional wisdom is Southern California does not

get hurricanes, right? Are you sure? Are our leaders in City Hall

sure? What do we do if we find out we are wrong?

A large storm damaged a nearly empty San Diego harbor just over

100 years ago. El Nino spawned a storm with 185 mph winds that headed

for Southern California in 1997. Disaster preparedness officials held

their breath as the storm veered out to sea, away from California, so

we did not have to evacuate.

Will the next big El Nino spawn a storm that floods Newport Beach,

and do we want our city even more vulnerable by washing out city hall

(however intriguing that might sound at the moment)?

After all the flooding events in September 2005, is anyone in

their right mind going to tell some Newport Beach city leaders that

they have rocks in their heads or that they are wearing no clothes?

By my count there are 10 big question marks above that the City

Council needs to answer, directly to the voters and residents who

will rely on city hall to help survive and to direct services in any

potential future disaster in Newport Beach.

* BURRELL CLAWSON is a resident of Balboa Island.

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