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Newport Beach appeals proposed RHNA allocations by Southern California Assn. of Governments

Donald Gates shares a laugh with Larry Haynes.
Donald Gates, left, site manager and resident, shares a laugh with Larry Haynes, Mercy House executive director, as they talk at The Cove Apartments, an affordable and supportive housing complex for homeless veterans and low-income seniors age 62 and older earning 30-60 percent of the area median income in 2018.
(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

The Newport Beach City Council unanimously authorized on Tuesday the appeal of the city’s current Regional Housing Needs Assessment numbers, which are mandated by state law as part of the periodic process of updating the local housing element.

The RHNA numbers quantify the need for housing. Cities are not required to directly build those homes, but must accommodate through zoning for residential development. Current draft numbers hold Newport Beach accountable for 4,834 housing units.

Half of that needs to be affordable housing, according to Community Development Director Seimone Jurjis

Jurjis said that the 34-page-long appeal addresses three main concerns, pointing to site constraints, the methodology and the change in circumstances in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, which Jurgis said “has changed everything — the way we look at housing, the way we look at density. That, for us, also is a major issue.”

The resolution adopted by the City Council describes the allocation of housing units to the city as “extraordinary” and “inequitable.”

“The City Council is a strong advocate of the development of housing, including affordable housing, and of local control as the best means to protect the city, its residents and business holders and to promote the goals and priorities of the community,” the resolution reads.

“While the city is committed to contributing to its collective local, regional and state needs for housing, the city has demonstrated that its RHNA allocation is unrealistic, excessive and based on faulty assumptions that can have grave consequences to the city and its residents,” the resolution continues. “Therefore, the city respectfully objects to the RHNA allocation and methodology used.”

The Newport Beach City Council, in a contested 4-3 vote, passed additional reforms on short-term rentals in the city. There are about 1,500 active permits.

The appeal proposes that the numbers be reduced to 2,426 units.

SCAG — which represents Orange, Los Angeles and four other Southern California counties — voted in November 2019 to shift more of the mandated 1.3 million new homes the state says Southern California needs over the next 10 years toward the coast.

Upon submission of the letter, city staff said the city will be able to comment on other appeals filed before Oct. 26 in the intervening 45 days. The organization will then hold public hearings for 30 days. A proposed final allocation will be introduced in January and will be finalized in February.

Much of the discussion Tuesday night focused on the splitting responsibilities for the Housing Element Update Advisory Committee. The Planning Commission, as part of the motion, will be responsible for handling issues of traffic circulation as it relates to the housing element update.

“I question whether this will work, not because of the effectiveness of the letter. I think you could have put Tolstoy in this and it would have the same effect because everyone’s going to be appealing on this and we know that,” Mayor Will O’Neill said. “But, the point is that I think this helps crystallize the challenges we’re going to face.”

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