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Newport council still wants a measured general plan update

Newport Beach residents seem to want to move quicker on a general plan update than the City Council.

At its annual planning session Monday, the council seemed reticent to depart from the slowed-down approach that it suggested when it last discussed a general plan update in November.

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The general plan is the city's comprehensive development framework guiding policies on land use, housing, roads, recreation, historical and natural resources, arts and culture, the harbor and bay, safety and noise. It was last revised in 2006.

Community Development Director Seimone Jurjis showed the council three trajectories:

  • The “Listen, Talk and Learn” approach, with several community meetings, a survey and possibly other outreach components, before beginning the update in early 2019 and wrapping up in late 2021;
  • the “start update now” approach, with the prompt hiring of a consultant and potential formation of a committee of residents, council members and commission members;
  • and a blended model — essentially, the “Listen, Talk and Learn” model, but at a more rapid pace, moving the update start up to this fall.

One milestone, which is out of the city's control, is the release of a state-determined regional housing needs assessment for several cities, including Newport. This assessment, which determines how much housing cities need at various income levels, is set for its own update in 2020.

Jim Campbell, the city's deputy community development director, said waiting for the state housing assessment would put the general plan on a path to wrap up in 2021.

At its November meeting, the council shied from launching in earnest into a general plan update process that could put a new plan in place in 2020.

Instead, members were open to a slowed, grassroots-heavy procedure that could add up to two years to a process that typically takes about 2½ years.

Speaking for the activist group Still Protecting Our Newport — which frequently takes a hard look at development in the city — Dorothy Kraus asked the city Monday to begin the process now.

She said SPON members are dissatisfied after failed major development proposals, such as Museum House and Banning Ranch, which indicates that the current plan is too vague.

Also, an update would allow an opportunity to better align and connect the general plan to the local coastal plan, which specifically governs development closest to shore and zoning codes.

At the November meeting, she told the council that SPON wanted significant grassroots input before the city committed to a process.

At that time, city staff had recommended that the council direct the mayor to appoint members to a three-person steering committee, and the city clerk to begin accepting applications for a separate advisory committee, with public outreach about the general plan update beginning in March.

Dennis Baker, also a member of SPON, said general plan amendments — like the kind requested in 2016 for Museum House, which residents resisted by launching a referendum campaign that convinced the council to rescind its development approvals — are evidence that the plan needs work.

"We, the citizens, shouldn't have to play Whac-A-Mole, going to the Planning Commission, coming to you, protesting, having referendums and stuff like that," he said. "I think that is indicative that it is time to revisit and do a general plan update."

City watchdog Jim Mosher, who previously favored a slower pace, held to that, saying he would want to know the housing requirements before doing a comprehensive update.

Councilman Scott Peotter agreed, suggesting that the general plan update begin in late 2019 and resources currently allocated toward the process be directed toward a port plan for Newport Harbor.

Councilman Jeff Herdman said he knows the community feels a plan update is necessary.

So is more detailed input.

"Until we learn, talk, listen, be transparent, report back to you the information that we've gathered from each of our districts … I do not feel we are in a position to make a decision, not on whether or not we're going to do a general plan update but whether we're going to do a complete one or whether we are going to take a look at it in parts," Herdman said.

Twitter: @Daily_PilotHD

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