The Newport Beach City Council approved a revised version of an amendment to the city’s General Plan Land Use element on Tuesday.
After more than an hour and a half of discussion, the item passed 4-1, with Councilwoman Nancy Gardner dissenting and council members Mike Henn and Leslie Daigle absent.
The amendment will be placed on the ballot and residents will vote on it on Nov. 4.
“We’ve done something here that no other city in the state of California has done,” said Mayor Rush Hill. “We have the public vote on our general plan amendments.”
Council members heard public comment from 19 speakers, the majority of whom opposed the changes and urged council members to vote no on the item.
“I can’t see throwing away the staff time that we have invested, the community time that we have invested and not allowing the people to vote on this,” Hill said.
The amendment was back on the agenda Tuesday after council heard it – and three hours worth of discussion and public comment – and made several revisions at their July 8 meeting.
At the previous meeting, council had requested that staff remove the sections of the amendment that changed 150 Newport Center Drive from retail use into 125-room hotel, added retail at the Hangars site, and increased mixed residential hotel and retail uses at the Lyon Properties.
Council had also recommended approving some of SPON’s suggestions relating to the text, goals and policies.
They also looked at changing other policies as they related to sustainable and complete community, residential and supporting uses, development agreements and expanded parking opportunities.
Community Development Director Kim Brandt reminded the council members that they considered three new policies: A conceptual Corona del Mar Traffic Bypass Plan; additional language for the Newport transportation center; and additional policy for the ultimate development of a congregate care facility in the airport area.
Brandt clarified to the council that the CdM Traffic Bypass Plan is a concept plan and would need further review by council and input from residents through a public hearing process before being implemented.
After attending a CdM Residents Association meeting last week and hearing public discussion, Mayor Pro Tem Ed Selich suggested adding language to the CdM Traffic Bypass Plan to pursue the reduction or elimination of the tolls on San Joaquin Hills toll road from Newport Coast Drive and to the west.
The bypass plan was only proposed two weeks ago, Gardner commented, and since then Selich has discovered more information and made changes to it.
“That suggests that perhaps we don’t have all the information,” Gardner said.
Gardner made a motion to continue the item for further discussion Her motion died after it failed to receive a second.
“Why don’t we continue to work on it?” she asked.
There are still a lot of issues to work out, she added.
“It just seems to me we have so many questions,” she said.
“There’s always unanswered questions and things to be discussed for the future,” Selich replied.
But, there comes a time when they have to decide to move ahead, he continued.
“I think the time has come on this,” Selich said. “We just put it on the ballot and let the voters decide.”
A lot of work and consideration has gone into this, he added.
Several public speakers commented that there needs to be more thought and work put into the proposed amendment and that the city seems to be in a rush.
“We are seeing here a frantic last minute rush to make changes and meet the deadline to get this on the ballot,” said longtime resident Allan Beek.
“You don’t need to be in such a rush,” he said, adding that 2016 is soon enough to make the changes needed.
He also questioned why the changes were needed at all when there are already empty hotel rooms and office space throughout the city.
“Is any resident of Newport Beach suffering for lack of shopping centers?” he questioned jokingly, garnering a few laughs from the audience. “That’s what the amendment offers: More offices, more towers, more traffic.”
What is the problem with the current general plan, Beek asked.
“It is working too well,” he answered himself. “It controls growth and to some people, that is unacceptable.”
Newport Beach residents would complain if they wanted to change that, he said.
“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” Beek said.
Corona del Mar resident Barry Allen also opposed the amendment.
The “pared down” version of the plan still leaves what The Irvine Company wanted, he said.
“It benefits no one but TIC – The Irvine Company,” Allen said, calling the plan “badly flawed.”
“Please do what the overwhelming number of residents want you to say, ‘No,’” Allen urged. “Or better yet, ‘Hell no.’”
Traffic was also a concern among speakers.
“I think we can all agree that traffic is one of the biggest threats to the residential quality of our city,” said resident Nancy Skinner.
All the development the amendment allows will add more car trips to what is already on the road, she commented.
“That is what we are concerned about – adding more traffic to what we have today,” Skinner said.
Brandt said that the revised plan created a reduction in future city-wide average daily trips. Estimates from last year show about 790,927 average daily trips. If the current 2006 plan was completely built out to its maximum capacity, that number would increase to approximately 945,518, Brandt said. With the revised plan, it is approximately 942,596, she explained.
Although most of the public speakers on Tuesday opposed the amendment, there were a few supporters who commented, including Dover Shores resident Nick Slevin and West Newport resident and Harbor Commissioner Joe Stapleton.
Also supporting the item was Corona del Mar resident and Planning Commissioner Kory Kramer. He also served on the General Plan Land Use Element Advisory Committee.
“It’s a reasonable, balanced proposal, which will allow for continued, measured growth in Newport Beach,” he said.
It’s not perfect, he admitted, but rarely is legislation perfect and it makes the 2006 general plan more effective and efficient.
Several council members agreed, saying that it will never be perfect, but this is a good place to start.
But Gardner was not convinced. There are a lot of good ideas in the amendment that can strengthen the General Plan, she said.
“But right now, it’s all speculation,” Gardner said. “I think what it’s going to lead to is a divisive election that isn’t necessary.”