Council Forms Housing Committee, Challenges State Requirements

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Newport Beach City Council unanimously decided this week to form a resident-led group that focuses on housing and complying with state requirements.

Council voted 7-0 on Tuesday to develop the Housing Element Advisory Committee.

In addition to forming the advisory committee, the Council directed staff to formally appeal the Southern California Association of Governments housing units mandate, pursue amendments through legislative channels, refocus city planning efforts on housing and transportation, and collaborate with neighboring cities and other regional entities.

SCAG is requiring the city to plan for 4,832 more housing units over the next eight years.

To potentially grow out by more than 4,800 units is a big ask, Mayor Will O’Neill noted during the Council study session on Tuesday. There are currently about, 45,000 housing units in the city, he pointed out.

“This has changed everything,” O’Neill said.

It’s a serious matter, he added. He encouraged residents attending the study session to share the information with their neighbors.

Newport Beach City Council unanimously decided this week to form a resident-led group that focuses on housing and complying with state requirements.
— Photo by Sara Hall ©

“This is something that is going to clearly dominate a lot of our city staff time, a lot of City Council time, and a lot of community time,” O’Neill said. “We need all hands-on deck on this one.”

Council also directed staff to return with a formal resolution opposing the modified Regional Housing Needs Allocation methodology, as suggested by Councilwoman Diane Dixon.

“I know the mayor already sent a letter expressing the city’s position on the RHNA numbers… (A resolution would) record it emphatically where the city of Newport Beach stands on this issue,” Dixon said.

The units can be anything from an apartment to a large house, and everything in between, O’Neill explained.

“We are trying to figure out how to do that,” O’Neill commented. “We’re also trying… (to find) paths for pushing back.”

Members on the newly-formed committee will be tasked with helping the city figure out how to comply with the requirements, he added.

The 10-member committee will consist of nine appointed residents and a non-voting member (the mayor or Council designee).

Council is searching for committee members with specific experience.

Residents with experience and knowledge in one or more of the following areas are encouraged to apply: Development of affordable and/or senior housing; California environmental law; transportation analysis/circulation planning; architectural or land use planning; real estate financing; residential development; general law; and leading public meetings.

The Committee is “part of a broader response to a controversial requirement that could compel Newport Beach to plan for the development of more than 4,800 housing units over the next decade,” City Public Information Manager John Pope wrote in a press release shared on Wednesday.

Members will advise the Council on policy decisions and guide city staff on issues related to the development of a certifiable Housing Element as required by the state Department of Housing and Community Development, Pope explained.

“Cities throughout Orange County are struggling with a new mandate for housing development approved in November by the Southern California Association of Governments,” he wrote.

Recently, the state Department of Housing and Community Development pushed down 1.3 million units for the Southern California region for the October 2021 to October 2029 planning period, Community Development Director Seimone Jurjis explained during the Council study session.

“We all were shocked,” Jurjis said. “We weren’t happy with this number.”

The Southern California Association of Governments is responsible for allocating units to individual jurisdictions.

At SCAG’s Nov. 7 meeting, the Regional Council “radically changed” the Regional Housing Needs Allocation methodology.

Newport Beach City Hall.
— Photo by Sara Hall ©

The “substitute motion” RHNA methodology submitted by the county of Riverside, was approved by SCAG’s Regional Council, and changed the Newport Beach’s RHNA allocation from 2,751 to 4,832 housing units while reducing the county of Riverside cities’ RHNA allocations.

Riverside’s argument was that the jobs are on the coast and in Orange County, Jurjis explained.

“This all happened in one fell swoop,” he said. “We had absolutely no say. We had no opportunity to vet this.”

This number is “unattainable,” Jurjis commented.

It accelerates four decades worth of planning and development into the next 10 years, City Manager Grace Leung wrote in her recent Insider’s Guide.

Due to this state mandate to plan for additional housing and the un-vetted changes by SCAG, the City Council directed staff to create a plan to immediately address the exceptionally high number of housing units. Staff was also directed by the General Plan Update Steering Committee to seek guidance from the City Council about how the revised RHNA affects the City’s General Plan update process.

Staff’s Housing Action Plan takes an “aggressive approach” to addressing the recent SCAG change.

The Housing Element must be submitted to the California Department of Housing and Community Development by October 15, 2021.

There are a few paths to consider, O’Neill explained.

First, pushing back on a legal standpoint, he said. They need to learn and exhaust all possible actions available to appeal.

Also, the city needs to consider the political based path, so they can ask for more time and less units. This may require hiring a lobbyist, either with other local cities or individually.

“We need to get on that quickly,” O’Neill said.

Lastly, the compliance path. Discussion about how it might be possible to meet the terms set by the state, including coming from the newly-formed committee, needs to be included in the process.

“I don’t see where we have an ability right now to ignore that path,” O’Neill said.

Council also decided on Tuesday not to amend section 423 of the city charter code, which would require a vote of the residents because one or more General Plan Statistical Areas will likely receive increases of more than 100 units. Staff had originally recommended the amendment.

“The residents might not approve the General Plan amendment, resulting in a non-compliant Housing Element, potentially subjecting the city to significant penalties and fines. The city would likely need to seek intervention from the courts in that circumstance,” the staff report explained as justification for the request.

Residents complained about the potential amendment during the study session. Ultimately, it would be divisive and it’s important to stay united on this issue, O’Neill noted.

Qualified residents need to apply for seats on the newly formed Housing Element Advisory Committee by Jan. 25.

Applications can be submitted through the city’s website at newportbeachca.gov/vacancy, or in person at the City Clerk’s office, 100 Civic Center Dr.

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