The opponents of Measure Y want you to believe the proposed general plan update will cause a massive traffic jam. An independently prepared EIR and traffic report for the update reach the opposite conclusion. It is easy for opponents to exaggerate the scope of the update since most people do not think in terms of square footage.
The update could add 500,000 square feet of office space and 50,000 square feet of retail to Newport Center. While that sounds like a big increase, it is less than nine percent of the current commercial entitlement in Newport Center.
The other element of the update, up to 500 housing units, will generate traffic at a lesser rate than office, according to the traffic study, and will mostly flow in the opposite direction of work hour traffic.
I live in Big Canyon so I have carefully read the EIR and traffic report as Big Canyon is the closest development to Newport Center’s office towers. The traffic can be accommodated within the capacity of nearby existing roads given the numerous access points to, and the modest percentage increase in development in, Newport Center. And the amount of development there is more than offset by decreases in allowed development elsewhere in the City, most notably in Newport Coast. So the total projected overall traffic from the update is actually a net decrease.
In addition to claiming traffic will become unbearable, opponents also say the update will not benefit our residents.
There are actually two distinct benefits that the update will generate. First, a modest increase in development in Newport Center will help ensure that our town center remains vibrant with better retail and restaurants supported by more customers who are already in the area. It will be more of a place our kids would want to live and work.
Another little-known but major benefit is that in order to utilize the proposed entitlements in Newport Center, developers (i.e. The Irvine Company) will have to sign development agreements.
Under state law, the City can only sign those agreements if there is “public benefit” in doing so. The 2006 voter approved general plan update is expected to generate well over $100,000,000 of public benefit agreements, about $90,000,000 of which have been signed and the proceeds of which are expected in the next 6 years. That is a lot of money for parks and infrastructure (like replacing old water and sewer lines and improving roads), with none of that money going to the City Hall debt, which has been separately financed with long-term, low interest rate bonds. Based upon the past development agreements, the new development agreements due to the update should net the City in the range of $40,000,000 to $50,000,000 or more.
So potential development is relocated to Newport Center which becomes a more vibrant, interesting place, the City gets a big public benefit fee for parks and infrastructure and traffic is not degraded.
No wonder all but one candidate for City Council will be voting Yes on Measure Y.
(Note: Tucker is chairman of the Newport Beach Planning Commission but submitted this letter as a private citizen)