General Plan Update Process Kicks Off

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In discussing the General Plan update, Newport Beach city staff, Council members, and residents all emphasized transparency, inclusiveness, and public engagement at a meeting this week.

During Tuesday’s Council study session, city staff presented an overview of the process and asked for feedback.

Phase one of the update will be the “listen and learn” year, said Community Development Director Seimone Jurjis.

“This entire process is going to be very open and transparent,” Jurjis emphasized. “We need to involve the community throughout this entire process.”

They want to provide as much outreach as possible, added Deputy Community Development Director Jim Campbell.

Mayor Diane Dixon echoed staff’s points concerning public involvement and openness. It’ a community effort, she said.

“That is really the foundational element as we go forward,” Dixon said. “Every step of the way, and I think we will all agree on this wholeheartedly, is transparency and engagement and community.”

“This is a very momentous moment,” Dixon added.

Several residents noted that they were encouraged by the presentation and the focus on community engagement, but added that there is no rush and that it needs to be done correctly.

“I hope that the ‘listen and learn’ part is a very slow and hugely involved (process),” with the community, noted longtime resident Nancy Skinner.

The city of Newport Beach is looking into a General Plan update.
— Art courtesy city of Newport Beach

Several Council members agreed that they need to take the time to do it right.

“There is no bell that’s going to ring to say that we’re done,” Dixon said, no matter how many meetings or how many months it will take, “We will do whatever is necessary to get the job done correctly, inclusively, and transparently.”

The only section that has a deadline is the housing element, which is required by the state to be updated by October 2021, Campbell said, the rest can take longer, if necessary.

City staff broke the update process up into three phases over about three years.

During Phase 1, Council will review the RFP, appoint the steering committee, and select a consultant. Staff will conduct the “listen and learn” tour in order to gather input from community members and stakeholders.

In Phase 2, Council will authorize forming a larger advisory committee, draft policies and the updated plan, execute fiscal and market analysis, and an environmental review.

Finally, in Phase 3, there will be commission and board hearings, and then back to City Council for final adoption.

Staff anticipates the cost will be about $2.5 million over the course of the update. Approximately $1.5 million will be requested with the upcoming budget for fiscal year 2019-2020. The EIR alone could cost about $1 million, Campbell noted.

“The cost of this could go up as we go forward, if the scope of the amendment goes up,” Campbell explained.

Newport Beach’s General Plan consists of 10 elements, six required by the state (safety, natural resources, land use, circulation, housing, and noise) and four optional areas added in by the city (harbor and bay, arts and culture, historical resources, and recreation).

It provides a long-range blueprint for development in the city and establishes the community’s vision for the future. This update can be a “course correction,” if the community wishes, he noted.

There have been changes in state planning law since the last comprehensive update in 2006, Campbell explained.

On Tuesday, Council directed staff to start the process to form a resident steering committee and hire a consultant.

city of Newport Beach
Newport Beach City Hall
— Photo by Sara Hall ©

“This is a big project and staff can not do it on our own,” Jurjis said. “There’s a lot of work that needs to get done.”

The steering committee will consist of five members of the public who understand land use and planning, have practical experience in planning or designing, and are able to make the time commitment.

They will be tasked with reviewing and recommending a consultant, and guiding the “listen and learn” process. The group will sunset at the end of phase 1.

Council unanimously supported the idea of including the mayor as a non-voting ex-officio member of the steering committee. Several residents also encouraged the Council members be present at the public meetings in order to really understand what the citizens of Newport Beach want.

The committee will review the draft RFP for the consultant and the RFP proposals, recommend a consultant to the Council, ensure public outreach and stakeholder input, and guide staff on the “listen and learn” process.

During public comment, residents raised some concerns about the criteria for the steering committee, that members might be biased toward development.

It needs to be balanced, local Elaine Linhoff said.

The community wants progress, but also character and charm, added Linda Watkins.

She suggested that members of the steering committee need to think innovatively and challenge the status quo.

“I was looking for someone who could think out of the box,” Watkins said.

Councilman Brad Avery assured the audience that the committee members selected will be locals who are qualified and thoughtful people.

A General Plan Advisory Committee will be formed after the “listen and learn” phase. It will likely be about 25 community members. The group will shape goals and policies from the results of the phase one outreach.

The update document is “by the community and for the community,” Dixon said.

“We all, as residents, all of us, must take an active part in defining what is the future of our city,” Dixon said.

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  1. We need to have seven people on the initial steering committee, we have seven City Council Members, why would we limit the steering committee to just five residents? In addition, we need to challenge the City to have multiple consultants, not just one. Laguna is currently setting an example of a Downtown Action Plan that will set into motion urban designs, land use that would reflect the importance of the community participation. The City of Newport Beach has suggested that they will designate one employee specifically to work on the General Update Plan; however, we need to involvement by volunteers to work with the City. The General Update Plan needs to be driven by the citizens of Newport Beach and not just City Staff and an outside consultant.