NEWPORT BEACH, Calif.—Newport Beach residents will decide June 7 if the way the upscale coastal community elects its mayor should change.
Measure B, if passed, would have voters citywide—starting in 2024—elect its mayor for a four-year term. Currently, the city elects seven city councilors who select the mayor for a one-year term each year.
Opponents of the initiative include several former Newport Beach mayors and city councilors, environmental groups, and other city leaders.
The political action committee Line in the Sand, which was created by the board of the conservation group Still Protecting Our Newport, has donated $15,000 to defeat the measure.
“It puts too much power into the hands of one single person,” Dennis Baker, the group’s treasurer, told The Epoch Times.
According to Baker, his group is also concerned about the amount of money donated in favor of the measure by developers and real estate companies and how that influence could affect future development.
“When you look at them, you will see there’s a lot of money coming into the pro-side from outside the city,” Baker said. “That’s a giveaway right there.”
Another group opposing the measure called “No Elected Mayor” had raised about $91,000 by the April reporting deadline and had spent nearly $43,000.
The group in favor of the measure, called “Elect Our Mayor,” is headed by current Newport Beach City Councilman Will O’Neill, who additionally served as the city’s mayor in 2020.
The group has dismissed allegations it is being funded by outsiders.
“The vast majority [of donations have] come from people who live in Newport Beach,” O’Neill told The Epoch Times. “When there are people who don’t live in Newport, it comes from folks who own businesses or property here in Newport and want to see a more stable leadership.”
O’Neill’s committee has collected just over $93,000 in donations and spent $77,300 by the April reporting deadline.
Proponents, like O’Neill, say they believe Newport Beach would be better served by a mayor elected directly by residents.
“Our budget is now exceeding a quarter of a billion dollars a year,” he said. “We interact with government agencies at the federal, state, county and regional level constantly. Resetting those relationships at the top level every year doesn’t work anymore.”
City Councilman Noah Blom has contributed $5,000 to support the measure.
“You ask someone, ask your friends, who is currently mayor of Newport Beach? I’d be really impressed if they know or they might say a former mayor, or one a few years back,” Blom told an audience at a May 11 event on the issue. “That tells me that we don’t have the concurrency in the city that we need.”
If passed, Newport Beach would become the latest Orange County city to change the way it elects its top official.
Starting in 2018, Costa Mesa elected its first mayor as part of a wider overhaul of the city’s election system, which also included switching to district-based voting.
Tustin is the latest city to adopt the elected-mayor position. Starting in 2024, voters there will choose four councilors and an at-large mayor after its city council approved the new district-style elections last year.
Walter Stahr, a Newport Beach author, spoke against the measure at the May 11 meeting on the issue and encouraged voters to read the ballot measure’s “fine print.”
Politicians can be elected to two four-year terms as a city councilor and then be elected as mayor for another maximum of eight years with the new measure, he said.
“At present, the mayor doesn’t have special powers other than the power to run the meeting,” Stahr said. “Under the language of Measure B, the mayor will have sole charge of the city’s agenda … Even more important than this agenda issue though, I think is the informal power that the mayor will have.”
The measure’s opponents say the change would create an “elected king” by allowing the mayor to decide what goes on the city council agendas. If other city councilors want an issue on the agenda, they would need to have two other councilors co-sign their motion for the item to be considered by the mayor.
The city’s current system allows three councilors to place items on meeting agendas, which are created by the city manager’s office.
If the measure passes, the city would undergo a redistricting process to redraw the districts and eliminate one city council position. The mayor would become an at-large position.