The Newport Beach Parks, Beaches & Recreation Commission on Tuesday postponed a decision to establish a five-year expiration date on benches donated to the city, asking that staff expand the proposal to include existing benches as well benches donated in the future.
Staff had proposed putting a five-year limit only on all newly donated benches. After the five years passed, staff would contact the donors, and if they wanted to continue sponsoring the benches, a $200 fee would be required. That fee would go into a bench maintenance account and would be used for bench upkeep.
But at Tuesday’s meeting, the commissioners suggested that the plan include all benches, including those already donated to the city. They also asked staff to consider a sliding fee scale because maintenance costs vary depending on if benches are made from wood, plastic or concrete.
Staff will revise their proposal after discussing it with the city attorney, said Mark Harmon, Newport Beach municipal operations director. The Parks, Beaches & Recreation Commission will discuss and possibly vote on changes to the bench rules at the group’s June meeting, but the City Council would have to approve the changes before they go into effect.
Currently, anyone who wishes to donate a bench to the city — typically with a plaque to honor a loved one — pays up to $2,000 or more, and the Parks commissioners approve the request. Those benches were assumed to be in place in perpetuity, according to a staff report.
The city has assumed maintenance costs, and benches usually need upkeep every five years, staff said. Harmon said that current municipal code allows the city to remove a bench without replacement if it falls into disrepair.
Commissioners on Tuesday said they would like to see all existing benches be up for renewal five years, with the meter beginning to run the day if and when the City Council votes to adopt the plan.
The issue of whether donated benches should expire came up at a commission meeting in November, and a committee formed to further study the bench question.
The most popular areas for benches — parks or other locations with ocean views — are “benched out,” Harmon said.
With bench expiration dates, after five years, city staff would contact the bench contributor, and if the donation is to continue, the contributor would pay $200 or some other fee to be determined. If the contributor can’t be located or declines to continue with the donation, the city would return any remembrance plaque or store it in case the donor has a change of heart, the commissioners agreed.
Benches in popular locations that aren’t renewed could become available to others — but the new donors would have to pay the full bench fee, Harmon said.
The commission’s next meeting is scheduled for June 5. Read our earlier story here.