Newport Beach is not anti-housing, mayor says in State of the City address

Newport Beach Mayor Will O'Neill gives his State of the City address Thursday night at the Newport Beach Marriott Hotel & Spa.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

Newport Beach has perhaps no greater external challenge than housing mandates from the state, Mayor Will O’Neill said in his State of the City address Thursday night.

The expansion of required approvals for accessory dwelling units has essentially killed single-family residential zoning, and a declared statewide housing emergency blames cities for not building enough, he said.

But that’s not the case in Newport, he argued.

Local residential planning is guided by a concept called the Regional Housing Needs Assessment, a state-determined planning target that cities have to meet over eight-year periods.

For the upcoming cycle from October 2021 to October 2029, the Southern California Assn. of Governments has tentatively said Newport needs to plan for 4,832 new homes.

For the previous RHNA cycle, covering the planning period from October 2013 to October 2021, Newport was told to accommodate five homes.

So far, 1,712 have been approved and built in that period, which still has more than a year and a half to go, O’Neill said. Newport Beach has about 45,000 housing units.

“We are not a city averse to housing. We are a city averse to being caught in the middle of competing priorities from other government agencies,” O’Neill said. “In [our] coastal city there is barely a square inch of land … that is not regulated by another government agency.”

Among examples of that, he cited the 2016 decision by the California Coastal Commission to block a development project at Banning Ranch; updated state maps that show part of Newport Coast as being in a high-risk wildfire zone; and Federal Aviation Administration dictates on building types and heights near John Wayne Airport.

He reminded the capacity crowd at the Newport Beach Marriott Hotel & Spa that the city is looking at three concurrent paths in response: legal resistance, political resistance and compliance.

The City Council has issued a resolution opposing the methods used to calculate the 4,832 new housing units.

The mayor spoke approvingly of city departments’ accomplishments in recent years, such as new fire stations and other capital projects, a review of harbor code, the addition of special-needs recreational programming, and moves to avoid structural deficits in the sewer and water funds.

And he reminded the crowd that life is fragile, referencing the Jan. 26 helicopter crash in Calabasas that killed nine people — most of them Newport Beach residents, including basketball legend Kobe Bryant.

“We have seen the many faces of grief in our city and we mourn with them all. We’ve also seen the many faces of love in our city that have brought light to darkness,” O’Neill said. “Tonight and every day, remember how precious life really is, how precious love is, how precious the time is that we all get to spend with one another. Be the light in this world. That is who we are. That is Newport Beach.”

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