Newport Beach City Council this week formally adopted the direction they gave staff during the annual planning session last month, with one distinct change regarding the general plan update process.
While the Jan. 29 meeting included a fiscal, harbor, and public safety updates, the big item of the night was the general plan update.
City staff presented three options for the update process, with both Council members and residents favoring the “listen, talk, and learn” concept.
This option included several community meetings in each Council district. All or most of 2018 would focus on community engagement and gathering feedback, Community Development Director Seimone Jurjis explained at the time.
The city would likely hire a consultant and form a committee in the first quarter of 2019. An environmental review and draft general plan language would be ready by 2020. The aim would be to complete the process by late 2021.
The point of this concept’s timeline was to hit a key milestone of general plan in a timely manner: The housing element that must be updated by late 2021.
Working backward from that date, Jurjis explained that the Regional Housing Needs Assessment numbers (which refer to the required amount of available affordable housing) won’t be available until 2020. Therefore the general plan update could reasonably start in 2019, he explained.
“What do we do before that?” Jurjis asked in January.
The answer was the “listen, talk, and learn” concept, he explained. Most Council members seemed to agree at the time that there was a lot of work to do in the other areas of the general plan update before the 2019 hiring of a consultant and forming a committee.
But on Tuesday, there appeared to be some confusion about the timeline.
Councilman Scott Peotter pulled the item from the consent calendar for further discussion.
He thought the “listen, talk, and learn” concept would start at the end of 2019, he said others thought it would start at the beginning of 2019.
Starting it in 2018 would “divert our attention from the harbor issues,” Peotter said.
Peotter made a motion to change the language to state that they don’t start any community meetings until 2019.
“Why start now and then have a big gap?” he asked. “Before we can actually change the general plan?”
A majority of the Council agreed, voting 5 to 1, with Councilwoman Diane Dixon dissenting and Mayor Marshall “Duffy” Duffield recusing himself (because of the planning session items related to the harbor).
Although not all the Council members wanted to wait to start the discussion.
“Or, alternatively, we start now and start listening to people,” Dixon said. “We don’t have to get into the affordable housing issues (yet), there are a lot of other issues as part of the general plan, that’s just one part of it.”
It’s going to take a while to get it all going and organized, she added, might as well get a jump start on it.
Council members will still be out listening to the community, Peotter noted, just nothing will be formally set up until 2019.
Public comment on Tuesday varied: Some didn’t realize it was going up for discussion again this week, others urged the Council to take their time to rebuild the community’s trust, while another mentioned that the update issue runs the risk of being politicized since it’s an election year.