Is Newport Beach’s Quality of Life Sinking? Leaders Discuss During Forum

March 11, 2021 Updated: March 11, 2021

Leaders in Newport Beach gathered at a webinar on March 10 to discuss whether the coastal city’s living standards have been declining.

“In the last year, we’ve seen a worldwide pandemic leading to an unprecedented societal shutdown, affecting our workplaces, schools, and places of worship,” said Newport Beach Police Department Deputy Chief Steve Rasmussen, who moderated the forum.

“We’ve experienced riots, social unrest, and calls to defund the police despite the chaos. And finally, we’ve seen heightened political polarization leading to escalating conflicts between both neighbors and even old friends. The conventional wisdom is that all of these challenges have led to a reduction in quality of life for many Americans.”

However, the troubles the city faced have not translated into a higher crime rate. Last year’s crime report was almost dead even with 2019, Rasmussen said. As well, 2019 and 2020 saw more than a 10 percent reduction below the city’s five-year average for crime.

Hope for the Homeless

Natalie Basmacyian, homeless coordinator for the city manager’s office, discussed how the homeless population has been faring during the pandemic.

The new bridge center in Costa Mesa off Airway Avenue will open in April, and Newport Beach’s homeless residents will begin moving into it in May.

“The bridge shelter and other newly opened shelters in Orange County provide a safe and stable environment for people experiencing homelessness to leave the streets and the public spaces in Newport Beach,” she said.

“This opportunity allows people to have formal case management, job resources, hot meals, a place to store belongings, and really stabilize and focus on the ultimate goal, which is to find appropriate housing.”

Rental Challenges

The forum also discussed the difficulties residents are having dealing with troublesome short-term rentals, and how the city has added further restrictions and services in an attempt to address those concerns.

The city received an increased number of complaints in 2020, according to Code Enforcement Supervisor John Murray.

As a result, the city council then increased fines for violations from $250 to $1,000 on short-term rental owners. Additionally, a second violation in a 12-month period will result in a suspension hearing, with a third violation resulting in a revocation hearing for the permit.

“A lot of the complaints we heard prior to this was that code enforcement staff only worked business hours during the week,” Murray said. “So, we’ve brought on a contract staff officer, she works 6 p.m. to 3 a.m. Thursday through Monday morning, and she has a phone on her, so if you call our code enforcement main line on a Sunday night at 2 a.m., you will have a live person answer and she will respond.”

The forum was hosted by Speak Up Newport.

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