After about three hours of discussion and public comments, Newport Beach City Council voted this week to postpone the proposed amendments to the city’s general plan land use element.
Council chambers were packed Tuesday night with more than two dozen public speakers – overwhelmingly in opposition to the amendment – and many more in the audience.
“I have heard the comments this evening,” said Mayor Pro Tem Ed Selich, chairman of the Land Use Element Update Committee, and they have “reinforced the comments that I’ve heard over the last two or three months or so.”
He quickly offered up a motion to approve the recommendations of the Planning Commission with a few changes of his own.
Community Development Director Kim Brandt recommended that council continue the item and staff return with updated documents reflecting the council members’ changes.
Selich amended his motion to close the hearing and direct staff to come back with all of the resolutions properly documented and “not try to do it on the fly here tonight,” he noted.
“I think that makes much more sense,” he said.
Staff will put together a complete packet that shows all of the proposed changes to the policies, exhibits and resolutions for council to consider at the next meeting, Brandt explained. All documents will be posted online the week before the meeting for the public to view.
City Attorney Aaron Harp clarified that although the public hearing portion is closed, members of the public will still be able to comment on the agenda item.
Council members voted 6-1 to continue the item, with Councilwoman Nancy Gardner abstaining.
“I’m abstaining because I just don’t feel I’ve had sufficient time to make a decision on this,” Gardner explained, referring to the new resolutions and changes suggested by several council members during Tuesday‘s discussion, including Selich’s Corona del Mar Bypass Traffic Management Plan.
The plan is meant to “divert vehicular traffic and limit traffic congestion in the Corona del Mar area” by utilizing Newport Coast Drive, Selich explained.
His plan proposes installing electronic message boards, similar to CalTrans, but a more aesthetically pleasing design, to tell how many minutes it takes to get to Newport Center, Fashion Island or the airport area via alternate routes versus going through Corona del Mar.
Under normal conditions, taking Newport Coast Drive is longer, Selich said, but during the peak hours and days, it is a speedier path.
“The electronic signs would encourage drivers to use the alternate routes to save time during theses periods,” Selich said. “Thereby distributing the traffic more evenly and avoiding congestion.”
The road system would have sensors that would be sending real-time data to the electronic message boards.
The details still need to be worked out by traffic engineers, he added, but it is a viable concept.
It must be implemented, in place and operational prior to the first certificate of occupancy for any project that uses any or all of the 500,000 square feet of office, 50,000 square feet of regional commercial, and/or 500 residential units permitted by the amendment.
Councilwoman Leslie Daigle had a few issues with the plan.
Some intersections would need to be looked at in closer detail for potential widening, she said. It could potentially create problems elsewhere, she added. Also, there may be residents who do not want the extra traffic in their area, she pointed out. There are also many other stakeholders to consider, including the chamber of Commerce and homeowner associations.
“I’m just taking shots at this thing from seeing it in the last 30 seconds. It’s clearly not well thought out,” Daigle said, adding that she didn’t intend to sound too harsh. “I mean there are issues that need to be studied.”
Selich reiterated that it is just a concept and agreed that it does need to be studied further.
His other amendments included: Keeping the square footage at the Saunders Property the same, but allowing the change of the land-use designation to mixed use; deleting the Newport Center hotel and removing the sentence that would allow an increased height in the 100 block of Newport Center Drive; accepting all the changes proposed by SPON in their May 16 letter to the Planning Commission; and more.
Councilman Tony Petros added an amendment of his own related to opportunities to reduce traffic in and around the Newport Center area.
Petros also suggested working with other local cities transportation centers and the county transportation authority and implement a program to promote alternative modes of transportation.
Prior to the council members commenting and making their amendments, members of the public had an opportunity to voice their opinions.
Marko Popovich, president of Stop Polluting Our Newport, noted the 2,000 signatures the group collected that opposed the amendment.
They questioned the benefits for residents and the impact on traffic, he said.
Resident Portia Weiss read a few of the comments from SPON’s petition, which ranged from comparing Newport Beach to Los Angeles to calling the amendment too extensive and the proposal all about “growth, growth and more growth” to describing the proposed amendment as a “high density nightmare.”
Residents expect the city council to protect the community from the unreasonable profit objectives of the developers, commented one petitioner.
Other speakers agreed and many questioned the benefits to the residents, including local Bill Bennett.
“If you place this item on the ballot, the voters are going to ask, ‘Why?’” he said.
The benefits are for the developers, not the residents, he argued.
CdM Residents Association President Karen Tringali agreed.
“When did Newport Beach become a field of dreams for developers?” she asked.
A few speakers mentioned The Irvine Company, one suggesting they ought to move back to Irvine.
Enough is enough, several of the public speakers commented.
“Growth is no longer progress,” said Bluffs resident Enrique Gonzalez. “Bigger is no longer better.”
For more information and to view the entire public hearing, visit newportbeachca.gov.