Newport’s mantra when it comes to state housing mandates: ‘Firmly challenge and plan to comply’

The Newport Beach City Council agreed Tuesday to focus on housing and related elements of its general plan necessary to accommodate the 4,832 new homes that the Southern California Assn. of Governments has said the city needs to plan for over the next decade.
(File Photo)

Newport Beach is concentrating its planning and zoning energies on meeting, yet also challenging state expectations for housing.

The City Council unanimously agreed Tuesday to pause the ongoing overall update to Newport’s general plan — a comprehensive long-term development strategy and guide — to focus on the housing and related land-use and circulation elements necessary for Newport to accommodate the 4,832 new homes the Southern California Assn. of Governments has tentatively said the city needs to plan for over the next decade.

The city also will form a housing-focused advisory committee and prepare for a formal appeal and nonbinding resolution opposing the SCAG allocation.

However, the council eschewed another possible response that had been on the table — turning to local voters to greenlight state-driven housing mandates.

Mayor Will O’Neill said a public vote as soon as November to amend Newport’s city charter to allow the development, as staff suggested could be needed given the scope, was a non-starter.

“It was clear during our discussions that our council and our community are united on this issue right now,” he said. “Trying to amend [the city charter] in November would be divisive and of speculative value and our efforts are better spent working together.”

He said the city is looking at three concurrent paths: legally framed resistance, politically framed resistance and compliance.

Newport Beach has about 45,000 housing units. For the previous Regional Housing Needs Assessment cycle — which covers the planning period from October 2013 to October 2021 — Newport was told to approve five homes.

Having to plan for 4,800 new homes in the next RHNA cycle, which will run through October 2029, is “serious,” O’Neill said.

“I’m not sure what bigger word I can use,” he said.

SCAG voted in November to shift more of the 1.3 million new homes the state says Southern California needs during the next 10 years toward the coast — increasing the number of homes Newport Beach would need to make room for to 4,832 from the previous target of roughly 2,700 that was set in October. SCAG represents Orange, Los Angeles and four other counties.

Though the state doesn’t directly require cities to build the homes, they must at least accommodate the need on paper through zoning for residential development. The deadline for certification of compliant city housing plans is October 2021.

Seimone Jurjis, Newport’s community development director, said the city was shocked enough by its earlier allotment of 2,751.

“And then things changed,” and the target became unattainable, he said.

Jurjis said every city is going to appeal, and Newport shouldn’t be left out. The city can at least try to keep the number from growing again, he said.

“We need to file an appeal, period,” Jurjis said.

With the mantra “firmly challenge and plan to comply,” Jurjis said the city also can ask for an extension of its October 2021 deadline, seek waivers of certain environmental procedures and pitch creative ways to add to its total, including counting accessory dwelling units and the rehabilitation of older market-rate housing stock to affordable units — as new housing also must fall on an affordability spectrum.

Councilman Kevin Muldoon suggested an amnesty program for unpermitted — and thus not legally recognized — accessory dwelling units, which would put them on the books and create a net increase on paper.

Councilwoman Joy Brenner said such units, small apartments on the same lots as larger single-family homes, are abundant in her Corona del Mar district. She conservatively estimated that there are about 300 just in the section of CdM north of East Coast Highway.

Councilwoman Diane Dixon said she wants to pass a resolution at a future council meeting against the housing requirement — like neighboring Laguna Beach and Costa Mesa have already done — “just to record it emphatically where the city Newport Beach stands on this issue.”

In both cases, Newport’s neighbors opposed the methods SCAG used to determine their housing needs allocations. However, the state Department of Housing and Community Development accepted the methodology Monday, according to a letter sent to the Daily Pilot.

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3:14 p.m. Jan. 15, 2020: This article was originally published at 1:35 p.m. and has been updated with additional information.