The California Coastal Commission met in Newport Beach City Council chambers last week and had a few noteworthy local items on the agenda, including an amendment to the city’s Local Coastal Program.
The Commission 7-3 in approval of the amendment with the CCC staff modifications. Commissioners Carole Groom, Erik Howell, and Linda Escalante dissented.
Newport Beach’s LCP allows state-required Coastal Development Permits to be approved by the city, rather than submitting plans to the CCC.
The amendment applies to both the Land Use Plan and the Implementing Plan portions of the city’s LCP.
It modifies the Coastal Resource Protection section of the LUP to allow certain exemptions to the Shoreline Height Limit Zone. The amendment also modified the IP sections relating to height limits and exceptions, waivers for future protection, and nonconforming structures.
The change also added a new section to the IP regarding relief from Implementation Plan development standards to allow for modifications and waivers of IP requirements.
Coastal Commission staff recommended approving the amendment with some modifications that they deemed necessary to ensure that it is consistent with the requirements of the Coastal Act.
The city submitted exceptions to the Shoreline Height Limitation Zone, including sites for assembly and meeting facilities, government facilities, architectural features, and more, but CCC staff deleted that portion.
With the modified language, CCC staff explained that exceptions to the Shoreline Height Limitation Zone “shall only be allowed when it is designed and sited to protect existing views to and along the ocean and scenic coastal areas, to be visually compatible with the character of surrounding areas, and, where feasible, to restore and enhance visual quality in visually degraded areas.”
A few residents raised concerns about the amendment, particularly about allowing exceptions to height limits.
Banning Ranch Conservancy Executive Director Steve Ray noted that the numerous amendments to the LCP over the years by the city is a “planned and coordinated effort to chip away at the protections of the Coastal Act.” By doing this, the city gives themselves more flexibility on what they can do in the area, he commented.
The coastline needs to be protected, he continued, and this amendment gives nonconforming structures “to become even more nonconforming and larger.”
Residents don’t want this, noted another speaker. Exceptions and variances should be hard to come by, not easily granted, she added. It needs stronger language for coastal protection and less powerful language for the city, said another. It’s not fair, he added.
Several speakers urged the Commission to continue the item.
Newport Beach’s Coastal Commission consultant, Don Schmitz, spoke on behalf of the city.
Variances in LCPs are standard and used in “extraordinary” circumstances, he explained. The recent amendment is “house-cleaning, in regards to procedures,” he explained.
There has been due process, including several public hearings and outreach, he emphasized.
Howell said he’s not comfortable with the amendment, partly because the last time Schmitz addressed the CCC was when the city was trying to be declared a “port,” in an effort, as Howell described it, “to avoid oversight by the Commission,” which again appears to be the intent of the city with this most recent amendment.
“I have some serious concerns about this,” some of which may go away with more work, Howell said.