General Plan Update Steering Committee Chosen Amid Concern, First Meeting Held

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Deputy Community Development Director Jim Campbell talks about the General Plan update process during the steering committee’s first meeting Wednesday at Marina Park.
— Photo by Sara Hall ©

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

About 50 people attended the first meeting of the General Plan steering committee was held Wednesday at Marina Park on the Balboa Peninsula.

The meeting was an introductory meeting and friendly discussion about the process, he added. Everyone has an equal voice, said Community Development Director Seimone Jurjis.

Phase one of the update will be the “listen and learn” year, he added.

“It’s your general plan and we’re going to listen to you,” Jurjis said.

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

“The general plan is really our blueprint for growth and development of the city and management of the city,” Campbell explained.

They want to engage as many residents as possible through town halls, online polling, newsletters, social media, and more. They are also developing thumb drives that contain the current plan’s documents, all of which are pretty large files, he noted.

They want to make it as easy as possible for people to provide input, Juris added.

Mayor Diane Dixon echoed staff’s points concerning public involvement and openness. It’ a community effort, she said. This process will be the framework for planning for the future of the city, she noted.

On Tuesday, City Council confirmed five resident appointments to the steering committee and directed staff to agendize an addendum to add two more spots to the group.

“This indeed is a new day for the city of Newport Beach,” Dixon said. “The most important work that we’ll be doing as Council members begins now.”

Several residents spoke Tuesday, asking the Council to reconsider the a few of the five appointments. A few members selected for the committee previously supported Measure Y (the local measure regarding development which was overwhelmingly shot down by voters in 2014) and therefore don’t represent the majority of residents, some speakers claimed.

The committee’s duties are very process-driven, not content-driven, Dixon noted. None of the group’s work is tied to any past, present or future political issues, she explained.

“One’s prior involvement in any local political issue is not germane to this process,” Dixon noted.

The five selected members of the committee include: Nancy Gardner (selected as chair), former mayor and city councilwoman; Ed Selich, former mayor, Councilman, and Planning Commissioner; Larry Tucker, current Finance Committee member and former Planning Commissioner; Paul Watkins, member of the Library Board of Trustees; and Debbie Stevens, president of the Corona del Mar Residents Association. The mayor is also part of the group as a non-voting ex-officio member.

Gardner and Selich were both co-chairs of the previous General Plan Advisory Committee in 2006.

Community Development Director Seimone Jurjis speaks to a crowd about the General Plan update process during the steering committee’s first meeting Wednesday at Marina Park.
— Photo by Sara Hall ©

Most of the public speakers focused their concern on the selection of Selich and Tucker, both of whom spoke in favor of Measure Y. Selich was also on Council when the Museum House condominium tower was approved in 2016.

Councilwoman Joy Brenner, who was on the ad hoc committee who made the recommendations, noted that the quality, expertise, and passion of the applicants was remarkable.

While she had hoped to see some new faces on the committee, the five residents selected have a wealth of experience, knowledge about choosing and managing consultants, and are all “good people,” Brenner commented.

“They’re not people we all have agreed with at all times, but I’ve talked with each and every one of them (and) I feel certain that there have been a great deal of lessons learned,” Brenner opined, citing Measure Y being defeated and Museum House getting overturned.

Nobody wants the public to reject it, she added. It’s in everyone’s best interest to genuinely listen to the residents and write it up accordingly, Brenner said.

“We’ve had a divided community for so long and it’s easy to assume that people are on one side or the other, but I’ve been assured by these people that they’re all going to look at what’s best for our community,” Brenner said.

She feels positive about the process moving forward, Brenner added.

Council ultimately unanimously approved the five selections, and directed staff to move forward with the process to add two more members. Council voted 6-0, with Councilman Marshall “Duffy” Duffield absent.

The future additional two members are likely going to be attending most or all of the steering committee meetings anyway, Dixon pointed out on Wednesday, so there won’t be a lot to catch up on.

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

“They’re going to be my board of directors,” Jurjis said.

Much of the discussion Wednesday centered around the future consultant.

They hope to get between six to eight bids consultant bids, Campbell noted. The aim is to have someone selected by May and Council approval by June. It is possible for the committee to split the responsibilities and recommend two consultants, each who have their own area of expertise, staff confirmed.

It really depends on what the community wants, Campbell said.

The scope of services, or a “general description of the anticipated work program components,” for the consultant(s) is broken up into six tasks, Campbell explained.

The six tasks are: Community engagement, marketing, and outreach plan; General Plan Advisory Committee creation; facilitate review and provide recommendations and draft update; market and fiscal analysis; compliance with the California Environmental Quality Act; and plan preparation and public hearing process.

Community Development Director Seimone Jurjis speaks to a crowd about the General Plan update process during the steering committee’s first meeting Wednesday at Marina Park.
— Photo by Sara Hall ©

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

The areas of study are not limited to this list, Campbell emphasized.

Campbell encouraged residents to read the vision statement for the general plan, and the entire document if they can. If not, as one resident pointed out they may not be too excited to read hundreds of pages of city documents, staff encouraged residents to pick an area or topic they are interested in and familiarize themselves with the related section of the plan.

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

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.

This is where the real fun begins, Campbell joked.

A General Plan Advisory Committee will be formed likely around January 2020. It will likely be about 25 to 30 community members. The group will shape goals and policies from the results of the phase one outreach.

Finally, in Phase 3, there will be commission and board hearings, and then back to City Council for final adoption, probably around September 2021.

Although the city does not have a good estimate of costs yet, staff previously noted that the cost could be about $2.5 million over the course of the update.

Jurjis said the committee will likely meet next Wednesday, but location and time are still TBD. It will be announced and publicly noticed, he added.

Staff anticipates about two meetings every month.

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