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Venezia: SPON spawns new mission

Opening my mail the end of March I found a 10-page foldout piece from the city titled "Newport Beach General Plan – a progress report on the general plan use element amendment."

The title itself is mind numbing, but residents in Newport should be paying close attention to what's bubbling up here.

First off, this is probably one of the most poorly produced public information pieces I think I've ever seen.

I'm sure someone thought it was really artsy and cool, but it was hardly legible in places.

The paper color was dark blue with gray, smoky-looking smudges that fanned to lighter shades. It almost looked as if it had been run over by truck tires.

Annoyingly difficult to read, the thing was tossed in the trash. I only retrieved it after a neighbor came by to discuss it.

This amendment, which residents will be asked to vote on come November, makes way for some big changes.

And like all change, some is good, some not so much.

One thing this new plan opens the door for is high-density projects. That has one organization in the community, SPON, quite concerned.

The acronym SPON, Stop Polluting our Newport, which formed in 1974, now stands for Still Protecting Our Newport.

"SPON is very concerned about the potential impacts said development would have on Newport Beach's quality of life," SPON President Marko Popovich tells me.

The group is questioning the city's environmental impact and traffic reports relating to this general plan update.

Popovich says members of the group also take exception to the piecemeal way in which the city is going about the update.

"The city is trying to erode our general plan by 1,000 little cuts. What we're asking for is we think they need to reconvene the General Plan Advisory Committee," he said.

On March 20, SPON sent a letter to the Newport Beach Land Use Amendment Advisory Committee and its chairman, Councilman Ed Selich, outlining its concerns.

"This General Plan Amendment proposes significant changes from the existing land-use plans for Newport Center and the Airport Area," the SPON letter states. "It is claimed that the trips generated will be offset by trips included in the General Plan what will not occur.

"This may be a way to plan on paper, but on the raid it means many more car trips. And those car trips will continue to increase from the many projects yet to be built including Banning Ranch, the Dunes Hotel, and Mariner's Mile to name a few."

The letter goes on to say the group takes exception to city claims that high-density, mixed-use developments, which include housing and retail, will decrease traffic as folks live near and walk to shopping.

I remember when I was the Santa Ana Heights Redevelopment Project Advisory Committee chairwoman in the early- to-mid-2000s.

The city was floating an idea of high-density live-and-work projects right by John Wayne Airport, saying they wouldn't affect traffic in the area.

I thought it was ridiculous then and still do. No matter how good the sound insulation, do they think folks will never open a window?

And are we to believe these residents will never leave their homes to drive to work, visit friends, take kids to school, patronize other shopping and dining outside of their little enclave?

Of course not, and SPON points this out in the letter, saying the Uptown Newport Project is supposed to be a walkable community, but the first of the two-phase project includes only 11,000 square feet for retail space. So those residents, by necessity, would have to drive to grocery and other stores nearby.

Though SPON is raising concerns, I got the impression talking to Popovich that it's not well-organized.

When I asked him if its members were going to be vetting City Council candidates this election cycle, he had no idea even how many seats were up for election.

And in looking for more information on the SPON website, I found a one-page site that basically gives the group's mission statement.

Popovich says work is being done to improve the web presence.

According to the mailer sent out by the city, public meetings regarding the general plan update started this month, and voters should take heed.

April 30 is the end of the public review of the draft.

And in May and June, hearings will be held by the Planning Commission and City Council.

This will surely be a hot topic of debate for council candidates this year. Where they stand on this issue could determine whether they win or lose with some voters.

BARBARA VENEZIA, whose column appears Fridays, lives in Newport Beach. She can be reached at bvontv1@gmail.com.

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