Letter to the Editor: Building Concern for General Plan Housing Element

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Newport Beach is planning for 2021, so while we are considering our General Plan Update, we should be concerned specifically about the Housing Element and our Regional Housing Needs Assessment, referred to as RHNA.

Newport Beach needs to zone for approximately 4,800 housing units in this RHNA cycle which is an eight-year cycle. Half of these units need to be in the low or very low-income category.

The state Housing & Community Development Department (HCD) has issued guidelines for Accessory Dwelling Units (ADU’s). The California legislature has passed laws that allow nearly every single family or multifamily residence in the City (including apartments) to build an ADU or convert a portion of their home to a Junior ADU.

Once homeowners realize they can build or modify their existing residences to include one of these, we will undoubtedly have many of them in our city. We probably have many “granny units” now that aren’t permitted, that can easily be permitted to become an ADU. It will be a source of income for the homeowner and provide low-income housing for our children and grandchildren and work force housing for those with limited incomes who work in our City. It may not be a popular trend with many Newport Beach resident’s, but there is literally nothing any of us can do to prevent it. Homeowner’s associations throughout the state will be unable to stop their homeowners from building ADU’s.

Cities are very limited in what constraints they can put on these units. HCD has issued a handbook that outlines what is required for an ADU to qualify for inclusion in our RHNA allocation. It does not limit the number of ADU’s that we can count in our Housing Element.

Because the trend is accelerating rapidly in cities throughout the state and we can’t limit the number of ADU’s that will be built in Newport Beach, I believe that we should maximize the number of ADU’s that we include in our RHNA allocation.

According to HCD, in 2019, California permitted 9,000 ADU’s, in 2020 we permitted 15,000 ADU’s. This is happening without publicity or outreach, so many people were not aware that this is an available choice for them.

With 35,000 residential units in Newport Beach, if only 10 percent of them added an ADU over the next eight years, we would have 3,500 ADU’s. At a rate of 5 percent, we would have 1,750 ADU’s.

Whether we are happy about it or not, we are going to see a steep increase in the number of ADU’s in our city. Because this is the reality, we should capture all of the possible ADU’s to fulfill our low and very low income RHNA allocation. We can estimate high on ADU’s and monitor the rate of permits. We can adjust in a future year, which will allow us time to research and more thoughtfully plan for the alternative—high density housing units, if it is required.

High-density developments can only provide a low percentage of low-income units. If we zone for these high-density developments now, as a part of our Housing Element, we will be unable to reverse this zoning easily.

I have heard developers say that if you zone for high-density developments in Newport Beach, they will be built. And developers have at least eight years for the economy to gain momentum to make this type of high-density development pencil out. Developers are making plans for this right now!

I believe the residents of Newport Beach, when faced with the choice of zoning for tens of thousands of housing units or for 2,400 ADU’s, would prefer to have 2,400 ADU’s, scattered throughout the city.

It is a more “place based” strategy for housing, which is what the State and HCD have said is their goal.

Nancy Scarbrough / Newport Beach

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