The Boys of Summer played the mid-summer classic last Tuesday. The winner gets home field advantage for their league in the World Series this fall (the American League this year). This is a big deal because the home team has won the World Series 21 of the last 28 years.
Imagine if the home field advantage allowed the home team to move the fences in an extra hundred feet, but only when the home team was at bat. Then moved it out when the visitors were at bat.
That is what the Newport Beach City Council is doing when it comes to the former City Hall site and their preferred developer.
city is moving the fences
The adjacent parcel is only allowed to have a height of 26 feet for flat roofs. If it meets certain criteria the city can grant an exception to 35 feet. The proposed zoning, approved by the Planning Commission in January, raises the height for the Civic Center site to 55 feet. So the city is “up-zoning” their property to increase the value for their preferred developer, for the “public good” of course.
It is good to be the HOME team! I know a few developers that would love to be able to “spot zone” like this.
The city claims to be providing for “additional” open space and pedestrian areas in their preferred development in an effort to try to encourage a Lido Village connection. It seems to me that if there were a level playing field, that the city would allow all the commercial uses in the Lido Village area to increase the height of their buildings if they provided the same amenities as the City’s preferred developer. That might encourage private investment in Lido.
Why is the City in the Hotel Business?
Perhaps a better question is why is the city playing at all? I can see the city setting the rules (otherwise known as zoning) to establish a level playing field, but why are they fielding a team? Why doesn’t the city simply sell the no longer needed city hall site to offset the $140 million cost of the new Taj-Ma-City-Hall?
Mayor Keith Curry said the reason was that ”they are not making any more land on the peninsula.” Now I presume that means that if the City sells the land they won’t be able to buy any more. Although they are doing more dredging… Curry also argues that a land lease makes better financial sense than to sell the land at today’s prices.
The above statements may be true. But that doesn’t change the fact that the city is going into the hotel business, apparently with R.D. Olson, the city’s preferred developer for a hotel on this site. I must have missed that part in the city charter that said that the city should be in the hotel business.
I can see Curry standing at the front desk now saying “welcome to Newport Beach, we can temporarily help your zip code envy.”
City Has a Conflict of interest
The city collects taxes on every guest that stays in any hotel in the city, called a transient occupancy tax or TOT. Then the city gives the TOT money to visitnewportbeach.com to advertise for guests to come to Newport and stay in our hotels. Does that mean that the city will “feature” its preferred developer hotel, since it is in the “public” interest that it succeeds?
What if the hotel goes out of business, does the city step in to run the hotel? In order to make sure those land-lease payments are made?
City Hall should be Sold to pay for the Taj-Ma-City-Hall
The city should stop moving the fences and either use the land for a public use, like public parking, or sell it to the highest bidder under the same zoning as the entire neighborhood and pay down the debt on the Taj-Ma-City-Hall.
Scott Peotter is an Architect and former Planning Commissioner in Newport Beach. Scott can be reached at [email protected]