Newport Beach is kicking the plan down the road — at least for now.
The City Council on Tuesday shied away from launching in earnest into a general plan update process that could put a new plan in place in 2020. Instead, it added a preliminary study period with a "blue ribbon" committee that would evaluate whether a plan update is needed at all, and if so, what it should cover.
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 most recently revised in 2006.
The council on Tuesday delayed a vote solidifying the committee, but all council 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.
Going into the meeting, 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.
After a study session where residents offered feedback on the process, Community Development Director Seimone Jurjis offered the idea of a committee of 10 people, including residents, council members and a representative of a city commission.
City government watchdog Jim Mosher suggested slowing the pace.
"You've heard a position from staff. I don't know what (other) stakeholders might think. It seems odd to be starting the process and then asking them," he said. "Do that at the beginning. Ask them what needs to be changed and what the most expeditious way of doing that would be, and only then make the decision."
Dorothy Kraus, vice president of activist group Still Protecting Our Newport, which frequently takes a hard look at development in the city, also wanted significant grassroots input before the city commits to a process. She said SPON planned to convene its own group to discuss the process.
"You might find that harnessing citizen power in that and similar ways is more cost-effective and will produce a better result than the single option presented to you tonight," Kraus said.
Elaine Linhoff was involved in a 1970s forerunner to the general plan called Newport Tomorrow and has attended public forums for plan updates since.
"I don't like to say this, but I have felt that it [the process for general plan updates] was like a feel-good thing to make us feel ... like we really had a part, but that the result was staff- and consultant-driven and did not totally reflect the wishes of the residents of the city," Linhoff said. "I hope that this time you won't end up with any citizen feeling like their opinions were ignored."
Deputy Community Development Director Jim Campbell said the 2006 plan started in 1999 and picked up steam around 2001 with a general plan update committee of about 10 people that functioned like the proposed blue-ribbon committee. The group studied whether an update was necessary and for what areas. After two years, it concluded that a comprehensive overhaul was needed — the last plan before that was created in 1988. That led to an additional three-year process that culminated in local voters approving the plan.
Councilman Jeff Herdman said he was looking forward to the new update but took a step back after Tuesday night's feedback.
"People feeling like they have to remind us to be transparent puts that question of trust out there on the part of the community, and that concerns me," he said. "I wonder if it's the right time. We have elements within our community that are in opposition to each other. We have no-growth people, we have people who want to pave everything — and I'm concerned about the division that's in the community right now and the temperature within the community for completing this process. I don't know if the climate is that healthy to embark on this process right now."
Former mayor Nancy Gardner, who was expected to be appointed to the plan's steering committee, said she was hoping to get going sooner rather than later.
She said it's best to promptly address divisions head-on.
Residents and city leaders are trending younger, she said, with a "different vision, different perspective, different emphases than maybe those of us who were very much involved in the (2006) plan of an older generation."
"Whether we're talking nationally or at our city level, what we see is each side hunkering down," Gardner said. "We're all listening to our own radio stations and watching our own televisions and we're not talking to each other. That is not how we resolve something."